After snapping their nine-game losing streak versus the Colorado Avalanche, the Anaheim Ducks split their first full two-game series against the Los Angeles Kings with two performances that could not have been more different. After winning a wild Monday night game 6-5 in overtime, Anaheim dropped an ugly 5-1 decision on Wednesday with a defensive performance that left John Gibson out to dry again. There were positive developments, primarily in Monday’s game including Rickard Rakell and Adam Henrique’s continued hot streaks. Unfortunately, their scoring dried up completely and the penalty kill, which was once the team’s only strength, continued to struggle.
Magic Monday for Rakell
Let’s start with the good. Monday night’s back and forth affair saw Rakell continue his hot streak, setting up an intriguing trade deadline for the Ducks. Rakell had nine points in his previous five games heading into Monday’s contest with the Kings. That included three goals and three multi-point nights.
He continued his success scoring twice and adding an assist in the Ducks’ 6-5 overtime victory against their hated rival. Though this sudden return to his old-scoring self is too late for a miraculous push to the playoffs for Anaheim, it’s perfect timing for the trade deadline.
The NHL trade deadline falls on April 12 this season which leaves 15 games between now and then for the Ducks. While that is long enough for Rakell to come back to earth, perhaps his sudden burst of offense can convince a team he’s back to being the player who can score more than 30 goals and put up more than 50 points in a season. Given his salary and the years left on his contract, he’d be a perfect fit for a team like the Maple Leafs who are reportedly looking to upgrade their offense. If general manager Bob Murray can entice a team by arguing Rakell would be even better in a lineup with more offensive weapons, perhaps he can increase his return.
Henrique Heats Up
If Rakell was white-hot, Henrique was slightly cooler, but not by much. After landing on waivers Feb. 20, Henrique was out of the Ducks lineup until Feb. 27, when he scored his third goal of the season in an overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.
From that first game back in the lineup after the Ducks put him on waivers, he’s tallied six points in six games, including a two-point night Monday against the Kings. That performance ended with a game-winning goal in overtime. Henrique is a streaky scorer and always has been — he didn’t add a point Wednesday night, nor did Rakell — but like Rakell, his return to the score sheet is well-timed. He continues to win faceoffs at a high rate, the highest of his career according to hockey reference, but his two-way game has taken a hit.
Still, if the Ducks offer to retain some of Henrique’s salary, they might also be able to entice a team to take on his contract and salary.
Ducks Penalty Kill Plummets
Up until the last few weeks, the Ducks’ penalty kill was the most positive thing about the team. Dallas Eakins’ squad ranked No. 7 in the NHL with an 85% penalty kill percentage from the start of the season until the beginning of March.
Alongside Gibson, the Ducks penalty kill was the primary thing keeping them in games. Now that strength has evaporated, which is a disturbing trend for a team that is barely competitive with a good penalty kill.
In their series versus the Kings, the Ducks allowed the Kings four power-play goals in eight opportunities, following a trend that has developed over the first 10 days of March. Heading into Game 2 of the Kings series, the Ducks had killed off only 55% of opponents’ power-play opportunities since the start of March, good for second-to-last in the NHL.
With that streak, the Ducks’ penalty kill dropped from No. 7 to No 17 in the NHL sporting a success rate of 78% for the entire season.
Seam Passes Kill Ducks
Part of their issue is the regularity with which they allow opponents to make seam passes across their penalty-killing formation. Those passes, which travel across the offensive zone, are very difficult for goaltenders to save and usually result in prime scoring opportunities for opponents.
Here is Anze Kopitar’s power play goal from Game 1.
Here is Kopitar’s power play goal from Game 2:
Three of Kings four power-play goals resulted from that type of play.
It kept them in Monday’s game, and it helped them build a 2-0 lead Wednesday that they never gave up. If the Ducks want to even be competitive for the rest of this season, they will need to turn their penalty kill around, or else they’ll be on the end of more lopsided losing scores like they were Wednesday.
The Ducks stay home to battle the San Jose Sharks Friday and Saturday. Anaheim sits one point above San Jose at the bottom of the Western Division and have a record of 1-1-1 against them this season. It is an opportunity for the Ducks to build some momentum against a weaker team and another rival coming off a series split versus the Kings.
All stats from hockey-reference.com
Anthony Ciardelli grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire but now lives in Los Angeles. Though he was raised a Bruins fan, he quickly came to enjoy the hockey culture in Southern California and the rivalry between the Kings and Ducks. He covered USC Athletics while pursuing his journalism masters there. He also enjoys doing play-by-play for USC Trojan Hockey.