By Thomas Harrington
The Anaheim Ducks muddled along through most of December, winning or losing a game or two at a time, before finishing the month strong and climbing back to .500 for the first time this season. Currently riding a three game winning streak, the Ducks have closed out 2015 with back-to-back road shutouts for the first time in team history. After spending a lot of the month at the bottom of the Pacific Division, the Ducks have pushed past Edmonton and are two points out of a playoff spot. Overall, the Ducks played in 11 games and went 6-4-1, picking up 13 points.
The Ducks’ best game in December was their 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. That win kicked off their current winning streak, and was one of the best played games by the Ducks this season. All season long, the Ducks have been absolutely abysmal in the second period, but against the Flyers, the Ducks were the better team and left that period with each team picking up a goal. In the last two games, the Ducks have dominated the second period, but it was the game against Philadelphia where they really started playing like the better team in the middle frame. Despite not scoring any points, this was also one of Carl Hagelin’s best games as a Duck as he was all over the ice, breaking up play and setting up chances. This was also one of Ryan Kesler’s best games of the season. Kesler also didn’t score any points, but was tasked with shutting down Claude Giroux and he did a great job of it. The two faced each other in the face off circle 13 times; Kesler won 12 of the draws. The game also saw Ryan Getzlaf score his second goal of the season, and the first time he beat a goalie as he one timed the puck past Steve Mason on the power play. The Ducks’ power play was virtually nonexistent in December, but they managed to score twice with the man advantage in this game. Overall, the team played very well and have built off of this win to play two very good road games since. If the Ducks are able to get this season on track, this game could be looked at as one of the turning points.
Anaheim’s worst game in December was their 5-1 loss to Carolina. The Ducks were coming off back-to-back wins over Pittsburgh and San Jose and they were looking to build off of those solid efforts. Unfortunately, the Ducks just fell flat against the Hurricanes. Jeff Skinner led the way for Carolina with a hat trick, and Eddie Lack had a great performance in net, turning aside almost every chance the Ducks had. After two periods, John Gibson was pulled and Frederik Andersen saw his first game action since playing on November 21st.
After seemingly turning things around in November, the Ducks’ power play fell on hard times again in December, as the power play only scored in two games. However, the Ducks’ power play was not helped by how few opportunities it had, receiving two or fewer chances in several games, including none in their win against New Jersey. That being said, when the Ducks did get their chances, like in their overtime loss to the Rangers when they received four chances, the power play unit came up empty. It was in their win against Philadelphia when the Ducks’ power play finally got going, as both Getzlaf and Corey Perry scored on the power play. In their final win of the month in Edmonton, Getzlaf scored on the power play again, the only goal of the game. Overall, the Ducks scored three power play goals on 25 chances.
Despite their power play struggles, the Ducks’ penalty kill unit remained the team’s greatest strength. The Ducks were shorthanded 37 times in December, and only allowed four goals. One of those was a four on three chance in overtime in their loss to the Rangers, so they only allowed three 5-on-4 goals this past month. The Ducks and Islanders have been battling for the top penalty kill unit in the league over the past month, and for now, the Ducks own the top spot, having killed off 88% of their shorthanded situations this season. Both Gibson and Andersen have made some big stops when the Ducks have been down a man, but it’s been the play of Kesler, Andrew Cogliano, Shawn Horcoff, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, Jakob Silfverberg, and the rest of the shorthanded unit that has done a great job of keeping other team’s chances to a minimum.
On the injury front, Simon Despres remains out with a concussion. Given the uncertain nature of how concussions work, there isn’t a timetable for his return. However, there was a report that he was skating, so hopefully it won’t be too much longer. Fowler injured his leg in the win over Philadelphia and is currently on injured reserve with no timetable for his return. As a result, Shea Theodore has been called up again and made his NHL debut in Calgary. He saw action in both of the last two games in December and didn’t look out of place. The Ducks are clearly doing their best to shelter him so he doesn’t get overwhelmed by some of the high skilled players the Ducks have faced in his two games. If Fowler is out for long term, expect Theodore to start stepping up and playing more of an offensive role with the team.
The Ducks didn’t have a great December, but the same can be said for most of the rest of the Pacific Division. The Ducks have played some very strong games, and while their offense is still struggling, their defense has been very good. As 2016 begins, the Ducks find themselves just two points out of a playoff spot.
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