The Anaheim Ducks split a weekend back-to-back, first losing to the New York Rangers 4-1 and then defeating the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in a shootout. The two games continue an inconsistent trend for the club, who are 2-3-2 since Dec. 17. The recent bump in the road can be attributed to a handful of circumstances, but none unique to only the Ducks. Every team in the NHL has had to deal with postponements and players shuffling in and out of the COVID protocol.
Finding consistency during this challenging stretch will be key to a team that certainly isn’t guaranteed to make the playoffs. Over the weekend, the Ducks saw several prospects make their NHL debuts, Max Comtois scoring his first goal of the season, and Trevor Zegras having a big game playing against his Calder Trophy competition.
Jacob Perreault, Brayden Tracey & Lukáš Dostál make NHL debuts
Like many other teams across the league, the Ducks have been forced to have a flexible roster due in part to players entering the COVID protocol, but also the usual wear and tear of an NHL season. As a result, several Ducks prospects made their NHL debuts this weekend. On Saturday night, Jacob Perreault received the call and was placed on a line with Zegras and Sonny Milano. It was a quiet debut for Perrault, as the entire Ducks lineup failed to generate much offense. Perreault only registered 11:04 time on ice and only played two shifts in the third period.
Related: Anaheim Ducks Prospects: Bowen, McTavish & More
Brayden Tracey and Lukáš Dostál made their NHL debuts on Sunday night, while Perreault was assigned to the taxi squad. Tracey was placed on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Troy Terry but fared similarly to Perreault the night before. Tracey was only on the ice for 9:21 and registered one high-danger chance. The ice time usage by both young forwards may not be worth looking into — the San Diego Gulls, Anaheim’s American Hockey League affiliate, also had a dense schedule over the weekend, meaning Perreault’s debut on Saturday was his second night of a back-to-back, while Tracey was playing for the third night in a row.
Dostál was stellar in his first start in the NHL. The 21-year-old Czech looked poised and comfortable while making 33 saves on 36 shots to pick up the shootout victory. In post-game interviews, Dostál wasn’t shy in sharing how much this moment meant to him.
Dostál’s development will be pivotal to the Ducks’ long-term success. John Gibson is still in his prime, but Dostal can continue to improve and develop as Gibson’s full-time backup in the NHL over the next few seasons. If the Ducks are to have the long-term success that their crop of prospects is capable of, Dostál’s development into a quality starting goaltender will be an important facet.
Max Comtois Finally Lights the Lamp
It’s been a difficult start to the season for Comtois. The team leader in goals and points last season, Comtois had yet to score a goal this season. Part of the issue is with injury, as he’s only played in 18 games so far. When he has been in the lineup, he’s been moved up and down the lineup, struggling to find any sort of consistency or chemistry. But only one day removed from his 23rd birthday, he broke his slump.
Comtois finally found the back of the net in the opening minutes of the third period when Rickard Rakell delivered a clean pass across the crease for Comtois to bury in the empty backside. As he skated to the bench to celebrate, Comtois reached over his shoulder and made a tossing motion. If the monkey is truly off his back, he’ll be one more reliable scoring option as the season moves into the second half.
Trevor Zegras Shines in Calder Showdown
Sunday’s game against the Red Wings was a rookie showcase, featuring four of the league’s top candidates for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. For the Ducks, Zegras and Jamie Drysdale are the crown jewels of the team’s rebuilding effort. In Detroit, Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have given their team a similar jolt of energy. Raymond entered the game leading all rookies in points, but Zegras recently passed Seider for second and has been narrowing the gap between himself and Raymond.
Zegras was the first to show up on the scoresheet when he ripped a one-timer past, Thomas Greiss, for the game’s first goal. The Red Wings went on to score two consecutive goals, with Seider collecting an assist on one and Raymond an assist on the other. Zegras would show up once again in the third period when he was credited with a secondary assist on Comtois’ go-ahead goal. He’d put the exclamation point on his night with a slick shootout goal that went between the legs of Greiss. After last night’s game, Raymond retained the rookie point lead, but with Zegras only trailing by three points.
Moving Forward: Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks
The Ducks have three games this week, first hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins before a Central Division back-to-back in Minnesota and Chicago. Look for the Ducks to gradually return to full strength. Head coach Dallas Eakins has shown patience in bringing players back in the lineup, especially in the case of players returning from COVID protocol. This could mean additional playing time for prospects like Perreault and Tracey. And now that Max Comtois has broken his scoring slump, look for him to be paired more often with the offensive lines and find more consistency. And, as we have been all season, keep an eye on the rookie scoring leaderboards as Zegras gets closer to taking over the top spot.