It feels like forever since the Anaheim Ducks played a hockey game. Since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 6th, the Ducks have only played in one game. Unfortunately it is a game the team would rather forget considering they were embarrassed by the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1.
Besides for the slaughtering at the hands of the Hurricanes, the Ducks have been playing better hockey as of late. They still cannot score a goal to save their lives but improved defensive play and strong goaltending has kept the team afloat.
Currently sitting in last place in the Pacific Division, Anaheim is still very much in the playoff picture, only three points behind the third place Coyotes. Although the Ducks are staying alive in the Pacific, the team cannot continue to count on the other teams continuing to play poorly. They need build off their strong play on the defensive side of the puck (minus the Carolina game) and turn this sinking ship around. There is no time like the present, and the Ducks will have four games in six days to start their climb up the standings.
Starting Thursday night in Buffalo, Anaheim will embark on a four game road trip of the east coast where they will face off against the Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders. None of these contests will be easy by any stretch of the imagination but the Ducks needs to view all four games as must wins.
Beginning in Buffalo
The Sabres currently sit in seventh place in the Atlantic Division with 29 points but they have played better than most people have expected. Scoring goals is not a strength of theirs as they currently average 2.28 goals per game, which is the 4th worst in the NHL. This is good news for the Ducks seeing that they cannot be counted on to produce more than two goals a night. It is not crazy to predict that this one is going to be a low-scoring battle that is not decided until the very end. When it comes down to it, this game needs to be a win in regulation for Anaheim. They need start playing the way people expected them to at the start of the season and coming out on top in a game they should win will be a step in the right direction.
Saturday Night in Jersey
The Devils have been one of the more pleasant surprises this season. With a 16-11-4 record, New Jersey currently sits in 4th in the Metropolitan Division and holds one of the wild card spots. Like the Ducks and the Sabres, the Devils have struggled to score goals with any consistency. Luckily for them, they are very skilled defensively and do not allow many goals from the opposition. The Ducks can expect a game similar to the one they will play in on Thursday night against the Sabres. Neither team has mastered the craft of scoring which means goals will be a rarity. Look for this contest to be close right down to the final whistle.
Back to Back in the Big Apple
Anaheim will take on both New York teams in a two-night span. Both the Islanders and the Rangers are proving to be the real deal in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers score more goals but the Islanders are slightly better on defense. Neither of these games are going to be a walk in the park for Anaheim, and the Ducks are going to have to bring their A-game to both contests. The Islanders and Rangers are going to be contending with fourteen other teams this spring for a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, and nothing would prove that the Ducks deserve to be a part of that contest more than beating two of the East’s best. Realistically, coming out victorious is going to be a tough task for Anaheim in both of these games. However, they do have the talent to do so. Bruce Boudreau and his team would feel quite accomplished if they could get a win in one of the two match ups .
An Optimistic Outlook
Looking at how the Ducks have been playing so far this season, it would not be ridiculous to claim that Anaheim will not acquire one win during this road trip to the east. However, this team is not as bad as they have been playing these past two-and-a-half months. Too many of their key players have been in big time slumps, and there is just no way it continues for everybody.
The team’s captain, Ryan Getzlaf, was noticeably upset after the loss to Carolina, and one can only hope that that frustration has transformed into determination during all this time off. The Ducks are still capable of being one of the best teams in the Western Conference but they need to start showing it now.
A solid four games on the road could provide Anaheim with the spark they need to turn their season around. Come next Wednesday morning, we may be looking at this set of games as the turning point to the Ducks season. So for sanity’s sake, lets just try to stay positive for just a little while longer.