By Michael Walters
Last season the Anaheim Ducks were just one game away from making the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2007. The Ducks had two chances to make it, but lost both games six and seven to Chicago. This season the Ducks looked to make the playoffs and have another long playoff run. They lost some players and added some, but many had them as the leading contenders out West. Anaheim was ready to be title town again this year, but instead has become trivial town. After 33 games the Ducks find themselves in last place in the Pacific Division and Western Conference, just as everyone had predicted.
What happened to the Ducks?
Many fingers have been pointed at Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, but he isn’t the only one responsible. To his credit, Bob Murray has admitted to being responsible as well. He brought new players in Carl Hagelin, Kevin Bieksa, Chris Stewart, Shawn Horcoff, and Mike Santorelli to replace the departed Matt Beleskey, Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem, and Francois Beauchemin. However, the results have not been what was expected.
When Hagelin joined the team, many thought he could be a top six forward to fill one of the top two left wing spots. Instead he has found a home on the third line with Horcoff and Andrew Cogliano. That line has been great when shutting down the opponent’s top lines and has provided some secondary scoring. However, the role of Hagelin was meant to be much bigger for the team.
Stewart has been one of the better additions to the team. He started the season slow, but has picked it up scoring goals and dropping the gloves when necessary. He is the third leading goal scorer at six goals behind Corey Perry(11) and Rickard Rakell(7). Mike Santorelli hasn’t played poorly, but he has been mainly used to fill in until Nate Thompson returned and for other injured players.
Bieksa was brought in to specifically replace Francois Beauchemin and it hasn’t worked out. Beauchemin is second in goals scored among Colorado defensemen with five and second in total points with 19. Bieksa has four assists this season and has been a liability at times for the Ducks.
Speaking of former Ducks, Kyle Palmieri has 14 goals in New Jersey. The Ducks could really use his offense, as he has more goals than anyone on the Ducks current roster.
Chemistry and Offense
The Ducks team chemistry hasn’t been right since the beginning of the season and it’s affected the offense the most. The Ducks are last in goals scored per game at 1.85. They have only scored 61 goals, which is also last in the NHL. Equally disappointing has been the power play, which saw an up swing in November, but now rests at 15.7%, ranking the unit 27th in the league.
Boudreau moved Rakell to the top line with Getzlaf and Perry, which has been one bright spot. Rakell is second in goals score with seven and Perry leads the team with 11. Getzlaf has been getting assists, but still only has one empty net goal. The top line has been effective this season at times, but the drop off from after that has been drastic.
In the beginning of the season, Boudreau tried Hagelin on the second line with Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg. Once Hagelin fit into the third line and Jiri Sekac went down to injury, Nick Ritchie was called up to play on the second line. He provided some energy to the Ducks, but he didn’t score in Anaheim, where he was able to do so with ease in San Diego. The chemistry Beleskey had with Kesler and Silfverberg has been difficult to replace.
The third line has been set for a while with Hagelin, Horcoff, and Cogliano. It’s been a great line to match other team’s top lines. The players on this line have also played well on special teams. However, the offense has been sparse.
The Ducks were the ones who were supposed to be crushing the NHL this season. Instead, it’s the NHL who is crushing the Ducks like an aluminum soda can.
Make A Move?
Could something be done to get this team going again? Even if the deal isn’t the best, a move for an offensive player that could jump start this team could go a long way in the second half of the season. However, with many players locked into long term deals, it may not be easy for Murray to trade for a player. And at the rate the team is performing, he may have to fire Boudreau instead to shake things up. A change in coach could help as well, but there aren’t really any quality options available. I don’t envy the current position Murray is in.
Can the Ducks make the playoffs and even reach the Stanley Cup Final? The answer is yes. In the 2011-12 season, the Los Angeles Kings were 15-14-4 good for 34 points after 33 games. This season the Ducks are 12-15-6 good for 30 points after 33 games. The Kings won 25 of their last 49 games and barely made the playoffs in a weak Pacific Division as the 8th seed. They went on a roll in the playoffs in route to their first Stanley Cup Championship ever.
Dedication and Focus
The Ducks can make the playoffs and make a deep run, but it’s going to take serious dedication and focus in the second half of the season. If a trade can’t be made, then Boudreau is going to have to find a way to generate offense. Aside from the top line, he is going to need to adjust the rest of the lines to at least find a second line that can score with some regularity. Boudreau could also start with a clean slate for the team going into the second half, but if a player has a terrible game then they may need to be benched. Some of the bigger name players on the Ducks haven’t performed at times and haven’t sat out a single game. Benching a big name player isn’t always highly recommended, but Boudreau did it to Teemu Selanne in the playoffs two years ago. Sometimes a timeout for a player can make them come back stronger and more motivated after the fact.
Defense is key to winning championships. The Ducks have a great penalty kill, decent defense, and two quality goaltenders. Anaheim’s penalty kill has been ranked first or second for most of the season. Goalies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson have played well for the most part of the season. But it’s difficult to ask either one to pitch a shut out or only give up one goal in hopes that your offense gets two goals on a nightly basis. If the Ducks can just get a little more offense going, then things could look up the second half of the season. If they want extra motivation, then all they have to do is look at their rivals up the 5 Freeway and remember what they did in the 2011-12 season.
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