The Anaheim Ducks started the month of December on a strong note, holding off a comeback effort by the Vegas Golden Knights with an impressive 6-5 victory. The win is their second in as many nights against Pacific Division rivals, having beaten the Los Angeles Kings in a shootout the night before. Since their arrival into the league, the Golden Knights have gotten the better of the Ducks, winning 18 of 21 matchups — prior to last night.
The win puts five points of cushion between the Ducks and Knights in the standings. While Vegas has been a perennial Cup contender, injuries and COVID-19 protocols have stunted the start of the season. It’s certainly expected that they will get better, especially with Jack Eichel’s eventual debut. But if the Ducks are going to take the next step forward and become a playoff team, it may ultimately come down to a final spot between them and the Knights, meaning that these games where they aren’t operating at their full potential will be crucial down the road.
Ryan Getzlaf Out, Vinni Lettieri In & Centers Shuffle Around
Ryan Getzlaf suffered a lower-body injury in the first period against the Kings the night before and was unavailable against the Golden Knights. As a result, seldom-used Vinni Lettieri drew into the lineup and slotted into the fourth line. Getzlaf’s injury necessitated a few additional moves at center as well, with Sam Steel moving from left wing to his natural center position. Steel had only been moved to wing this year in hopes to limit his on-ice responsibilities while he tries to establish himself at the NHL level. But last night was a true test as he was given Getzlaf’s line to play alongside. Steel managed to get a secondary assist on the opening goal of the game when Troy Terry rifled a shot over goaltender Robin Lehner’s shoulder and into the net. In other lineup moves, Sam Carrick moved to his natural center position to facilitate Lettieri’s arrival in the lineup, while Derek Grant moved from center into the wing vacated by Steel.
While Anaheim had no difficulty scoring, Getzlaf’s presence was obviously missing from the power play. The Ducks had built a 4-1 lead late in the second when Evgenii Dadonov was whistled for goaltender interference. But instead of being able to deal any sort of crippling blow, a Vegas breakout combined with a lackluster backcheck allowed Zach Whitecloud to cut the lead to 4-2 with 12 seconds remaining in the second period. The Ducks were afforded another power-play opportunity early in the third period, but a failed zone entry led to a breakaway for Mattias Janmark, who snuck it beneath Anthony Stolarz’ leg pad and cut the lead to 4-3. With Getzlaf, Anaheim’s power play has been one of the best in the league. But it was clear that, without his cross-ice passing and strength with the puck, Vegas was able to close lanes and force turnovers to completely neutralize Anaheim’s man-advantage.
Rakell-Zegras-Milano Line Stays Hot
Perhaps it was them understanding that the Getzlaf injury may impact the other primary scoring line, but the high-octane line of Rickard Rakell, Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano showed up in a big way Wednesday night. Milano and Zegras each recorded three assists. Rakell contributed with a goal that featured impressive puck-handling and retrieval from all three linemates.
For those keeping score at home, Zegras’ 17 points is tied with Michael Bunting for second among rookies, trailing Lucas Raymond at 22. 12 of his points have come in the last nine games. This is his second 3-point game during that stretch and his second multi-assist game in the same span. With all due respect to Raymond, Zegras has significantly narrowed the race for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Defense Helps Offense: Goals From Manson, Lindholm & Drysdale
The Ducks have certainly gotten more help from the blueline than in previous seasons, but the primary scorers on defense have been Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler, each in the top-16 for points by defensemen. But Wednesday night saw a few other faces contribute to the scoresheet. Josh Manson was along the wall when he sent the puck towards the crease, bouncing it off of Alex Pietrangelo’s skate and into the net. A few minutes later, Hampus Lindholm snapped a puck from the point that Zegras somehow perfectly avoided, yet screened Lehner from ever seeing it.
Jamie Drysdale’s third-period goal proved to be the most important. After surrendering the back-to-back shorthanded goals, Milano found Drysdale on the rush with a beautiful cross-ice pass that Drysdale sent into the far side of the net after Lehner vacated it to cover the near post. The goal restored a 5-3 lead with 13 minutes to play.
Looking Forward: Calgary Flames Followed By A Road trip
The Ducks will wrap up their homestand against the Calgary Flames, who have been one of the best teams in the Western Conference to this point. While there is a long season ahead, this would be the playoff matchup if the season were to end today. They’ve only played each other once this year, with Anaheim sneaking away with an overtime win on the road in early October. After the Flames, the Ducks will head on the road for a five-game road trip against the Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues. In the meantime, keep an eye out for an injury update on Ryan Getzlaf. With a tough road stretch ahead, the Ducks will need to be as close to full strength as possible.
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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.