The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for that run of wins that will put them firmly in the playoff picture instead of on the fringe. With the team now at basically full health, if it doesn’t happen soon, there might be cause for concern.
It was another week of treading water for the Ducks, as two exciting home wins were sandwiched between a pair of disappointing losses.
Ducks Get Back on Track at Home…Initially
The week got off to a less-than-stellar start for the Ducks when they played a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee in Colorado against the red-hot Avalanche. The Ducks peppered their former backup goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, with 34 shots, but he proved stingy in stopping all but one. The quick and opportunistic Avs got out to a 2-0 lead against the Ducks against Bernier’s replacement, Ryan Miller, as Matt Nieto scored on a broken play midway through the opening frame before potential MVP-candidate Nathan MacKinnon doubled the lead midway through the second.
While Chris Wagner would cut Anaheim’s deficit in half a few minutes later on a goal that saw newcomer J.T. Brown pick up an assist for his first point as a Duck, a backbreaking power-play goal by Colorado’s Colin Wilson in the closing stages of the second period put Anaheim in a deeper hole out of which they could not climb, as the 3-1 score held up to be the final.
Luckily, for the Ducks, they got to return home to kick off a five-game homestand against the up-and-down but ever-dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday. After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, Anaheim broke out offensively with four goals in the second period, including a highlight-reel breakaway tally by Ondrej Kase. Kase, Adam Henrique, and Nick Ritchie comprised a new third line that ended up being extremely effective, combining for two goals and putting pressure on the Pens all night.
A late Pittsburgh rally to cut a 4-1 game to 4-3 ultimately fell short as John Gibson showed off his athleticism down the stretch in thwarting the Pens’ comeback attempt. Hampus Lindholm added a buzzer-beating empty-netter as the Ducks won 5-3.
Cogliano Returns in Win Over Kings
The win over the Penguins was an unquestionably exciting game, but it was probably bested in several ways just two nights later when the Los Angeles Kings traveled south for another installment of the freeway series.
As the Ducks are trying to gain some traction and climb up the standings with a healthier lineup, the Kings have been going in the opposite direction of late, and those trends continued Friday night as the Ducks extended the Kings’ struggles with a hard-fought 2-1 victory—the second time in less than a week that Anaheim got the better of LA.
A scoreless game through two periods—despite a 17-5 shot advantage by a determined Ducks team in the first period—was finally broken early in the third when Adam Henrique hustled to loose pucks on consecutive occasions before getting one to trickle across the goal line for a 1-0 lead.
The Kings would tie it less than three minutes later on an Alex Iafallo rebound goal that was largely the result of a missed coverage by Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf. Undeterred, though, the Ducks retook the lead for good with 7:39 to go, as Ryan Kesler beautifully redirected a Francois Beauchemin point shot. The Kings fired the kitchen sink at the Ducks in the final minutes, but Anaheim staved them off for the win.
While the game was electrifying and important in terms of the standings, it was perhaps more noteworthy for all the drama surrounding Andrew Cogliano’s return from a questionable two-game suspension that broke his incredible streak of 830 consecutive games. Then factor in the fact that the game was against the Kings: a bitter rival, the team against whom Cogliano committed the infraction that got him suspended, and the team for whom Dustin Brown still suited up Friday night after escaping with a fine and no suspension for a hit the previous evening that was seemingly much worse than Cogliano’s. Yep, there were storylines aplenty.
The fans at Honda Center gave Cogliano a loud cheer when his streak was acknowledged during a stoppage in play. Cogliano expressed how much that meant to him emotionally.
“It’s important for me to take the time to express my gratitude of how special it’s been over the last 48 hours and tonight,” Cogliano said. “That was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life and my career. This was probably one of the tougher parts of my career, but that evened it out for me in terms of support. The video, the fans. It’s pretty special to have that done in my career. I really want to thank the people who took the effort. It means the world to me.”
Sharks Halt Ducks’ Momentum
Coming off the emotional victory against the Kings, the Ducks were looking to ride that momentum to another win over their other in-state rivals, the San Jose Sharks. Alas, a solid 6-1-1 run at the Honda Center hit something more akin to a major California traffic jam than a minor speed bump, as the Sharks took advantage of some Anaheim mistakes and an uncommonly vulnerable Gibson in a lopsided 6-2 win.
It wasn’t a terrible start for the Ducks; 1-0 deficit after the first, they played reasonably well, holding a 12-8 shots advantage and controlling large swaths of the opening frame. Sharks backup goaltender Aaron Dell was stellar in keeping the Ducks off the board while Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored with about six minute sleft in the period by picking up some loose change off a rush play.
It got worse from there for the Ducks, as Dell continued to thwart them on some grade-A looks while the Sharks cashed in on their opportunities. It got to 3-0 before a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Rickard Rakell (his team-leading 17th tally) late in the second and an even-strength marker early in the third by Ryan Getzlaf brought the home team to within one.
After that, though, instead of building off the momentum, the Ducks began to unravel as San Jose put the game out of reach with three more goals. Mikkel Boedker second of the game, which made it 5-2 and spelled the end of the night for Gibson, who had one of his few sub-par outings this season. The Sharks later added another goal against Miller, who had come in to relieve Gibson, for the 6-2 final.
Even though the Ducks’ overall game might not have been as bad as the final score indicated, Getzlaf lamented the team’s inability to play with more energy throughout and take advantage of a San Jose team that played the day before.
“The rest and the legs should have been ours tonight,” Getzlaf said. “They were [playing the second game of] a back-to-back, and we didn’t take advantage of that.”
Anaheim will look to right the ship as its five-game homestand concludes this week with a game against the battered and faltering New York Rangers Tuesday night and another against the Central-Division-leading Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. The Rangers got the better of the Ducks a month ago in New York with a 4-1 victory, but Anaheim got their chances with 40 shots on goal. The only problem for them was they were facing Henrik Lundqvist at the top of his game. They’ll look for a similar effort and better luck Tuesday night.
The high-flying Jets also skated to a 4-1 win in their only other game against the Ducks this season, which took place in Anaheim on Nov. 24. Top Jets centerman Mark Scheifele is out with an upper-body injury, but the Ducks will nevertheless face a difficult task in striking even in the season series with a formidable Winnipeg team.