By Thomas Harrington
The Anaheim Ducks still aren’t scoring a ton of goals; they only scored a total of 20 goals in the last 10 games. However, the Ducks’ defense has gotten even stingier, giving up only 20 goals against during that time. The Ducks’ top forwards have started to heat up, but depth scoring is still an issue. The defense is dealing with injuries, but a couple of rookies have made a huge difference on the backend and in net. Overall, the Ducks went 6-2-2 and collected 14 points in the last 10 games.
Anaheim’s best forward in the last 10 games was Ryan Kesler. Kesler had scored three goals in the Ducks’ first 30 games of the season, but was finally rewarded for his hard work in the last 10. He scored the game-winning goal against New Jersey and has four goals in his last four games, including two against St. Louis. Kesler’s five goals were tied for the team lead with Corey Perry over the last 10 games. Besides an increase in offensive production, Kesler’s defensive play has continued to be stellar. He shut down Vladimir Tarasenko, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Taylor Hall, John Gaudreau, and Andrew Ladd. He’s also been money in the face-off circle, winning over 60% of his draws in the last 10 games.
The worst Ducks’ forward was Jiri Sekac. From early November to mid-December, Sekac missed time with an injury, but has done little since his return. In the last 10 games, Sekac has been scratched three times and has not recorded any points. He hasn’t played well enough to play in the Ducks’ top six and he hasn’t been physical enough or defensively responsible enough to stick in the bottom six. Right now, there isn’t a ton of space for him in the lineup. Hopefully he can turn his game around soon, but he has not been playing well for the Ducks lately.
When Cam Fowler went out with injury, there was a big concern in terms of who would take over his role on the team. There is little question that Fowler has been the most consistent defender on the Ducks this season. The entire unit has responded and tightened up considerably, but it’s been Sami Vatanen who has been the Ducks’ best defenseman in the last 10 games. Since Fowler’s injury, Vatanen has seen his ice time go up and he’s been a big part of the Ducks’ league leading penalty kill. However, it’s been his work on the powerplay that has been even more impressive. The Ducks’ powerplay has struggled through most of the season, but it saw a huge increase as it scored seven times over the last 10 games. Vatanen assisted on two of those goals, and did a good job of creating chances from the point and keeping plays alive.
As I already said, when Fowler went out, the entire defensive core really stepped up in his absence. As a result, I will not single out any players as being the worst defenseman over the last 10 games. While almost every single player had a rough outing or two (especially against Toronto), everyone played well overall. Even Kevin Bieksa, who has become the whipping boy of the Anaheim fan base, played much better over the last 10 games.
In net, John Gibson started seven games for the Ducks, while Frederik Andersen started the other three. Both netminders played very well, with Gibson putting up some stellar numbers as he posted back-to-back shutouts on the road in Edmonton and Calgary. At this point, it’s fair to say that Gibson has become the Ducks’ starter. That doesn’t mean Andersen won’t see the net much, he’s still a very good goalie and I expect him to challenge Gibson for more starts as the games get more intense and the Ducks push for a playoff spot. In the loss to Toronto, Gibson was pulled after giving up three goals and being run into.
A few more things that caught my eye in the last 10 games defensively. When Fowler went out with injury, Shea Theodore was recalled from San Diego and has not looked out of place. He’s appeared in six games and played a career high 21:45 against Toronto. He has yet to pick up any points but does have 13 shots on goal, and nailed the post as well on a rush up ice. He’s also seeing a lot of time on the Ducks’ top powerplay unit. His play could make one of the Ducks’ other defensemen expendable as the trade deadline approaches. Clayton Stoner has missed the last few games with a lower body injury. Korbinian Holzer has filled in for him and been his usual dependable self, except against St. Louis. Holzer struggled against the Blues and played his worst game as a Duck. Bieksa had his first goal and multi-point game against Winnipeg. It’s taken awhile, but he finally seems comfortable with the Ducks. He’s making better pinches, timing his hits well, and helping out offensively.
Offensively, the Ducks are creating more chances, but overall are still struggling. Carl Hagelin had one goal in the last 10 games, and easily could have scored four or five more as he had some great chances, but opposing goalies just seemed to have his number with every chance he had. Ryan Getzlaf has finally started scoring goals, as he picked up two in the last 10 games. If he can really heat up, the Ducks will be a much better team. Finally, Rickard Rakell has really settled in nicely on the Ducks’ top line. He had five points over the last 10 games and has been the Ducks’ most offensively creative player this season. Perry may be leading in goals and points, but Rakell is doing some amazing things with the puck. This has already been a breakout season for him, but he looks like he could turn into a legitimate star if he keeps playing like this.
Individually, the Ducks simply cannot buy a goal. There’s been unreal saves and an unhealthy number of posts hit this season. However, defensively, this team just keeps getting better. Their penalty kill continues to be the best in the league and the Ducks have killed off over 20 consecutive penalties. As long as the Ducks keep pressing, the goals will come. And as long as they can continue to keep playing defense like this, the Ducks could start winning a lot of hockey games.
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