The short answer to the posed question is yes. The long answer is yes, but not to the extent to write the Anaheim Ducks off as Stanley Cup Contenders. Yet.
Every team slumps during the course of an arduous 82 game schedule. Even Stanley Cup winners slump from time to time. Just look at the Los Angeles Kings form recent years.
But the Ducks’ recent slide has been compounded by injuries to key players in key positions. Will the recent decimation of his squad force General Manger Bob Murray’s hand with the trade deadline fast approaching? Or will the Ducks just keep their heads above water long enough to make a run when the playoffs come around?
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
Nothing can derail Championship aspirations quite like injuries and the Anaheim Ducks have experienced their fair share of them over the past few weeks.
The Anaheim Ducks are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and have been giving up a boatload of goals recently. Over their past 5 games, the California team has surrendered 19 goals during regulation, en route only beating the lowly Carolina Hurricanes over that stretch. To make matters worse, starting goaltender Frederik Andersen was placed on IR after hurting his neck against the Tampa Bay Lightning . Andersen’s replacements, Ilya Bryzgalov and John Gibson, haven’t been able to steer the sinking ship in the right direction.
INJURY UPDATES: @Matt_Beleskey (upper-body) is out 2-4 weeks. Sami Vatanen (lower-body) is out 4-6 weeks.
— Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) February 17, 2015
After the Ducks’ latest loss to Washington, a game that saw Anaheim surrender another 5 goals, word spread that Matt Beleskey and Sami Vatanen both were going to miss a pretty substantial amount of time. Beleskey is Anaheim’s second leading scorer and Vatanen is the leading scorer on the Ducks’ blueline. For a team where the only legitimate question mark was scoring depth, losing both these players is a significant blow.
The injuries at key positions seem to suggest that the Anaheim Ducks’ recent slide will continue. But with these injuries comes the promise that those injured will be back in time for the playoffs. Anaheim shouldn’t be too concerned about missing players just yet.
Getting Hot at the Right Time
I am a firm believer in teams who want to challenge for the Stanley Cup have to have momentum heading into the playoffs. Again, look at last year’s Cup Final: the Kings went on their usual tear and wound up winning the cup, while the New York Rangers, a team that, on paper isn’t overly special, caught fire and wound up in the Finals.
Now for the Anaheim Ducks, a team where a Stanley Cup ring was the goal at the beginning of the season and anything short of that would be considered a failure, will have to turn on the switch once all their pieces come back. Switching from a slump where everything is going wrong to a hot streak where everything is going right is a lot easier said than done. Hockey is a fickle mistress.
Here we reach the most concerning implications of all the Anaheim Ducks’ injuries: can all the pieces, once they return, find enough cohesion towards the end of the season to gain momentum for a cup run?
Sami Vatanen might not return until April, which doesn’t give the defender a lot of time to find his game legs once the games become really meaningful.
Teams want to be heading up the standings towards the playoffs, not down, as Anaheim has fallen from first in the west to third. The biggest concern with this slump is can Anaheim turn things around with enough conviction to really beat the Chicago’s and Nashville’s of the West?
No Time for the Panic Button
With all that being said, the Anaheim Ducks are a talented enough squad to quash the questions and make a run at the cup. They still feature the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler. The trio by themselves could win a playoff series or two.
The main concern, as mentioned, is can the Ducks catch fire for a significant Cup run before the season winds down? The Ducks’ recent slump has put a damper on the thought that the Ducks can, but it isn’t out of the question that, once everyone returns, the Anaheim Ducks will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.