‘Ducks Drill Down’ is a regular, ~weekly column that recaps the latest goings-on with the Anaheim Ducks.
Coming back home was so nice. Until it wasn’t.
Returning from a brutal stretch in eastern Canada temporarily put the Anaheim Ducks back on the winning track, but it all came crashing down in a disheartening defeat Sunday night to the Pacific Divison rival San Jose Sharks. The loss leaves the Ducks out of a playoff spot for the time being.
Back in the U.S.
The Ducks saw a promising start to their road trip go the other way once they crossed over the border. Losses to non-playoff teams in the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens were followed up by an ugly (though to some people, entertaining), no-defense affair in Toronto against the young and dangerous Maple Leafs. Each team had 40-plus shots on goal in the game, not doing a ton to help their goaltenders.
Ryan Miller had another rough night for the Ducks after getting pulled early in Montreal, but his teammates weren’t helping him defensively too much either. The Leafs took a 4-3 lead into the third period before Rickard Rakell—who had already scored his 20th of the season in this game—scored again to tie it at 4 early in the frame.
It was all downhill from there, though, as Toronto’s William Nylander restored the Leafs’ lead just 1:21 later. The Leafs would add a couple more en route to a wild 7-4 win.
Captain Ryan Getzlaf expressed frustration over his team’s poor defense.
“We’re not going to beat anybody 8-7, I’ll tell you that. Overall as a group, we just have to play better,” said Getzlaf. “We have to be [ticked] off in here after these last three games, and the way we’ve played defensive hockey is abysmal, giving up over five goals a night.”
Things started to improve once the Ducks returned to the U.S., but it wasn’t all pretty. Anaheim would not give up five-plus goals in its next game, but despite that and the fact that they skated away with the all-important two points, the fact that they squandered a late lead and needed an overtime goal by Adam Henrique to win against the woeful Buffalo Sabres did not exactly inspire confidence. Still, at this time of year and with the tight position the Ducks are in, two points are two points.
Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly, who committed a gaffe earlier in the game that resulted in a Ducks goal, atoned for his error by knotting the game 3-3 with just 15 seconds remaining. While Anaheim was fortunate to eventually win anyway, they would not be so lucky a couple of games later against the Sharks (insert ominous music to signify foreshadowing).
Strong Start, Weak Finish Back Home
The Ducks finally returned home to Honda Center for a Friday-night tilt against the disappointing Edmonton Oilers. Like in last year’s seven-game Western Conference semifinal series, the Oilers would not go down easily, twice cutting two-goal Anaheim leads in half. The Ducks, though, were able to hold on for a 3-2 win, thanks in large part to John Gibson, who came off IR for his first game since Jan. 30. On the offensive side, Hampus Lindholm continued his strong year with his eighth goal of the season as well as an assist, while Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler also found the back of the net.
Looking to build off that momentum Sunday night against a division rival in San Jose, the Ducks had a great first period and eventually took a 1-0 lead into the third despite a lackluster second frame in which they were outshot 14-2. When Cam Fowler potted his seventh of the season to double their lead, the Ducks seemed destined to skate away with a pivotal win and thus overcome the conspicuous flaws in their play.
Alas, those flaws would catch up to the Ducks and burn them, as Logan Couture soon cut their lead to 2-1 before Anaheim once again gave up a tying goal in the final minute. This time, it was Timo Meier getting loose in front for the goal that forced overtime. And this time, the Ducks would not make amends by getting the second point after regulation, as the Sharks took the game in a shootout, delivering Anaheim a crushing 3-2 defeat.
There were several troubling aspects of this loss. Besides the blown two-goal lead in the third period and how late the tying goal came, the way the Ducks started so strongly before noticeably wilting as the game progressed was perhaps most concerning. In that sense, this game served as a microcosm of Anaheim’s brief two-game stretch on home ice.
Add into the equation that the Sharks had just played the night before—unlike the Ducks—and you’ve got an inexcusably bad loss. Anaheim fired 13 shots on a shaky-looking Martin Jones in the first period. If not for a disallowed goal because of an offside challenge, they would have been up by two instead of one, but nonetheless, it was evident that they had control in the opening frame and had an opportunity to take advantage of an opposing goalie who did not seem to be at his best.
After that? They made things easy on Jones, as they had just 14 shots for the remainder of the game while the Sharks had 29. The bottom line is that the Ducks gave this game away. And they know it.
“It started in the second period,” Getzlaf said of this latest loss. “We had two shots in the second period. At that point, you’re receiving the game a little bit. We came out with a little bit more jump in the third, but we have to find ways to put those games away.”
Fowler, who failed to tie up Meier in front of the net on the tying goal, lamented the result and owned up to his mistake.
“That last goal is a tough one to give up,” said Fowler. “I kind of left my man in front, so personally I feel a little responsible for that one. Those things happen. We had a chance to get the extra point. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.”
While it’s true that sometimes “those things happen,” they’re becoming a bit too commonplace for the Ducks this season—that is, late blown leads and shoddy net-front coverage. The Ducks will have to clean up and minimize those mistakes, or they might not be able to squeeze into the playoffs.
Ducks’ Upcoming Schedule
With the Sharks snatching two points from the jaws of defeat and the Calgary Flames defeating the New York Islanders Sunday night, the Ducks now find themselves three points back of San Jose for the second seed in the Pacific Division and one point behind Calgary for the No. 3 seed. Both teams have a game in hand on the Ducks, who also trail the Minnesota Wild—who have played two fewer games—by one point for the second and final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Anaheim will have to lick its wounds before getting right back out on the road for a four-game swing that takes the club through Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, and then Vegas as they come back west. While every game is critical at this point, the Saturday game against the Wild—which starts at 11:00 a.m. Pacific time—will be especially important given the teams’ proximity in the standings.