The 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend was a success. However, it is now a thing of the past. Teams must now put their game faces back on and prepare for the most crucial part of the regular season. From here on in there is no more room for error and every game counts.
The Anaheim Ducks are hoping to continue where they left off before the break, playing a much more impressive brand of hockey than what was displayed in the early months. The team is currently on the outside of the playoff picture, residing in the fourth place of the Pacific Division.
This week is the most important string of games for the Ducks so far this season, as they face off against the three teams that sit ahead of them in the division standings. The Los Angeles Kings have a pretty tight hold on first place but second and third place are very much within Anaheim’s reach. If the Ducks experience success over these next three contests, the team could very well hold a playoff position.
It All Starts With The Sharks
The Sharks will be making their way to Anaheim to take on the Ducks for a Tuesday night showdown. San Jose currently sits in second place in the Pacific Division with 56 points. Although they are still reachable, five points separate them from Anaheim in the standings. The Sharks have become one of the better offensive teams in the league averaging 2.92 goals per game. However, they also average the 10th most goals allowed per game. The Ducks can use this to their advantage if they are able to keep up the offensive momentum they have demonstrated recently.
If Anaheim wants to catch up to San Jose soon, they are going to need more than just victories on their end. They are going to need the Sharks to lose. After Tuesday night’s game against the Ducks, the Sharks will also play two more games this week against St. Louis and Nashville. These will not be easy matchups by any stretch of the imagination but San Jose would need to lose all three in regulation and the Ducks would need to win all three in order for Anaheim to move all the way up to second place by next week.
A Little Rivalry Action
Thursday night will see the Ducks heading to Los Angeles to take on the rival Kings. These games are always fun to watch and are expected to be dog fights until the final horn sounds. Los Angeles has undoubtedly been the best team in the Pacific Division and sits in first place with 63 points. Los Angeles is in the middle of the pack in terms of offense but is one of the best defensive teams in the entire league, only allowing 2.27 goals per game.
Anaheim currently sits thirteen points behind the first place Kings. Catching up with them at this point is out of the question and should not be a goal of theirs. However, beating Los Angeles will help the Ducks gain confidence, and is necessary if they want to move into playoff positioning.
In Come The Coyotes
The Ducks will finish up their three-game divisional battle against the Arizona Coyotes at home on Friday night. The Coyotes have been one of the bigger surprises this season and have played well enough for third place with 53 points. This is the team Anaheim could most likely pass after this week.
Arizona only has two points separating them from Anaheim and has a very tough schedule this week playing the Kings and the Blackhawks before they take on the Ducks. Anything can happen but it will be very difficult for the young Coyotes to come out successful in their contests with Los Angeles and Chicago.
Arizona has had Anaheim’s number so far this season and it will not be an easy game for the Ducks. Friday night’s matchup could be the determining factor for who is in third place at the start of next week.
Got To Win Them All
What the Ducks must accomplish this week is simple but challenging. They have to win every game. Although the Pacific Division has been labeled the weakest division in hockey, the level of play has picked up and separation is beginning to occur. By the end of the week, Anaheim could be in a very good spot or in an unpleasant hole. They will need some help from the Sharks and Coyotes but need to do their part and win out the week. It should be an exciting few days for the hockey club in Anaheim.
John Gove is an experienced hockey writer who admires the game at all levels. Currently, John is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers.