The Anaheim Ducks lost to the Calgary Flames, 6-2 on Wednesday night. The loss is the third in a row for the Ducks, dating all the way back to Jan. 31. The long break between games can make it difficult to generate any sort of consistency, but last night can be attributed to being outplayed by a red-hot Flames team. While the Ducks have been off, teams from around the league have been busy making up games postponed due to various COVID-19 outbreaks. None of those teams have been playing as well as the Flames have been, who have won eight in a row and since Jan. 29. As a result, the Flames have catapulted past the Ducks in the standings and now lead the Pacific Division.
John Gibson Pulled Despite Back-to-Back
Just short of halfway through the hockey game and trailing 4-1, head coach Dallas Eakins made the decision to pull goaltender John Gibson in favor of Anthony Stolarz. Gibson was far from stellar, allowing four goals on 20 shots, but he had minimal help from the skaters in front of him. Of the four goals, three were considered high-danger shots, and the fourth was considered mid-danger, according to Natural Stat Trick. Pulling a goaltender out of mercy isn’t terribly uncommon, and Gibson has been given early nights off when he gets shelled behind this rebuilding Ducks team over the past few seasons. But with the Ducks heading to Edmonton for a game the day after both goaltenders logged about thirty minutes, coaches usually opt to keep one goaltender fresh, even if it means leaving the other out to dry in a blowout.
Stolarz filled in admirably, stopping 20 out of 21 shots as the Ducks continued to give up opportunities. As for the plans against the Oilers, it appears like Gibson’s removal was done in order to get him on the ice tonight. Eakins conceded that a comeback last night was unlikely and Gibson would be better tonight with additional rest, according to The Athletic reporter Eric Stephens.
Special Teams Continues Free-Fall
The Ducks were awarded a handful of power plays over the course of the game, but failed to convert on any of their five opportunities with the man advantage. The Ducks’ power play has been a revelation this year after a historically bad 2020-21 campaign saw them convert at an 8.9% rate. Their 24.4% conversion rate this year is still good enough to be in the top-10 right now, but they’ve scored on only one of their last eleven power play opportunities. Personnel deployment on these power plays has also been questionable. Hampus Lindholm had the second-most ice time among defensemen on the power play last night, with more time than either Cam Fowler or Jamie Drysdale. Lindholm is more of a traditional “defensive” defenseman. His three points on the power play puts him behind names like Vinni Lettieri, who has appeared in 30 fewer games than Lindholm. The Ducks’ top power-play unit is still a dangerous group that can fill the back of the net, but the recent slump and questionable usage have thrown cold water on the notion that it belongs among the elite groups in the league.
Trade Deadline Reality-Check
As I’ve mentioned previously, the Ducks will be doing a lot of watching in February as the rest of the league catches up in games played. Now that Calgary and Edmonton are approaching the 50-game mark, the reality is setting in on this Ducks’ season. The Ducks are in a three-way tie for third in the Pacific Division but have more games played and fewer regulation wins than the Oilers and Los Angeles Kings. And if they want to look towards the Wild Card standings to enter the postseason, they’ll have to compete with the lower seed between the Oilers and Kings, as well as Central Division teams like the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators.
While there hasn’t been a lot of action on the ice for the Ducks, there are certainly no quiet days in the front office. With the March 21 trade deadline nearly a month away, newly-appointed general manager Pat Verbeek will have to find suitors for his surplus of expiring contracts. As currently constructed, the Ducks are a fringe playoff team that would likely end up as first-round cannon fodder for one of the elite teams in the Western Conference.
While it is disappointing relative to how they’ve played to this point of the season, the Ducks were largely expected to be toiling at the bottom of the standings for another season. Even if this season ends with the Ducks just outside of the playoffs and with no chance to jump more than 10 spots in the draft lottery, enough progress has been made to show that the franchise is moving in a positive direction with a young team.
Tonight: Edmonton Oilers
The Ducks finish their Alberta back-to-back against the Oilers tonight. John Gibson will be the likely starter after his short outing the night before. With the Oilers and Ducks trying to occupy the same playoff spot, this game has big-swing potential in the standings.
I was born and raised in Mission Viejo, California, and currently live in Visalia, California. Graduated from CSUF in 2016 with a B.A. in Cinema and Television Arts. I’ve been a sports fan for my entire life, rooting for the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Rams and Miami Heat. In my free time, I enjoy playing video games, trying to pour a perfect cup of coffee, and testing out a local craft beer.