By Thomas Harrington
By winning the final two games of the regular season, coupled with the Kings losing in overtime to Winnipeg in their final game of their season, the Ducks roared back from the bottom of the Pacific Division to win the division and a date with the Nashville Predators. In the final month of the regular season, Anaheim went 3-2-1 and picked up seven points. With the end of the regular season, I’ll also be including a review of the final 11 games for the skaters along with the monthly review, as I did back in October.
The Ducks’ best game in April was their 3-1 win over Dallas. Against one of the most dangerous teams in the league, the Ducks stifled Dallas’ attack, allowing only one goal in the final minutes of the game. In the third period, with the Stars desperately trying to get back into the game, the Ducks allowed only eight shots against, while launching nine of their own. It’s the type of third period that the Ducks have excelled at since the Christmas break. The Ducks also scored two shorthanded goals in this game, with Nate Thompson and Ryan Kesler doing the honors.
The worst Anaheim game in April was their 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The Ducks had a chance to give themselves an almost insurmountable lead in the Pacific, but weren’t able to close the deal. Corey Perry scored an early goal on the power play, but that was the only offense that the Ducks could muster. The Jets finally got one by John Gibson late in the third, and completed their victory in overtime.
The best Anaheim forward in the last 11 games was Jakob Silfverberg. He was tied for the team lead in points with 10 and led the team in goals with seven. His final goal of the season was his 20th, the first time in his career that he has reached that mark. Besides his offensive contributions, his work in the defensive zone continued to impress, as he made life difficult for the opposition’s best players on a nightly basis. He’s playing his best hockey of the season right now. If he can carry this kind of play into the playoffs, he could put up similar or even better numbers than he did in the playoffs last year when he scored 18 points in 16 games.
The worst Ducks forward in the final 11 games of the season was Chris Stewart. Stewart appeared in nine of the Ducks’ last 11 games and recorded only two assists. However, he did recently return from a long term injury and it’s taken some time for him to get back into the swing of things. He’s player who can chip in with some goals and play a physical brand of hockey. His style of play is perfectly suited for the playoffs and Anaheim will need Stewart to be on his game when the playoffs kick off.
The best Ducks defenseman in the last 11 games was Cam Fowler. Besides being the only defenseman to appear in all 11 games in that stretch, he also led the defense with five points and, for the most part, looked like the consistent defender that he was before his injury earlier in the season. He was also quite effective on the power play, as two of his five points were picked up on the man advantage.
The worst Anaheim defenseman was Josh Manson. Though technically not a rookie, this has been Manson’s first full year in the NHL, and for the most part, he has excelled, especially when paired with Hampus Lindholm. However, he’s had some struggles down the stretch, most notably during Anaheim’s road trip that took them through eastern Canada. In those three games combined, he had a -4 rating and collected one assist.
In net, Gibson received the majority of the starts, as Frederik Andersen was dealing with a concussion and was unable to play for most of April. Gibson played in five games and went 2-2-1 and played well in every single contest. Given how much time Andersen missed, Gibson will most likely be the Ducks’ starter in game one against Nashville. Andersen appeared in only one game, as he shutout the high flying Washington Capitals and turned aside some high quality opportunities in the win. Anton Khudobin also played for a couple of minutes. With Andersen out, Khudobin was the backup to Gibson and against the Kings, Gibson had to leave the game for a minute to deal with a skate issue. Khudobin came in and made two saves for the Ducks.
On the special teams front, the Ducks’ power play cooled off a little bit, scoring only a few goals, but it was still good enough to keep Anaheim’s power play unit as the best in the league. Ryan Getzlaf, Perry, and Fowler all scored a power play goal for the Ducks in April.
While their power play came back to earth, the Ducks’ penalty kill unit remained sky high, as it allowed one goal in over 20 chances. Colorado was the only team to score against Anaheim’s penalty kill unit. As with the power play, the Ducks finished with the league’s best shorthanded unit.
Over the last 11 games, the Ducks suffered numerous injuries, leading to interesting line combinations and a number of players from San Diego coming up and contributing. After being reclaimed off of waivers, Chris Wagner played in six of Anaheim’s final 11 games and picked up two assists, his first two points as a Duck. Michael Sgarbossa made his Anaheim debut against his former team, the Colorado Avalanche. Nick Ritchie appeared in five games and picked up a goal and an assist, doubling his point production on the season. Shea Theodore appeared in six games and added another goal and an assist to his season totals.
Winning the Pacific Division for the fourth year in a row, especially considering where Anaheim was in the standings at Christmas, is an incredibly impressive achievement, but one that the Ducks simply don’t care about. This is a team that is built to and expected to compete for the Stanley Cup. Will they be able to do it? Who knows, but it should be a great ride to watch. Also, if you get the chance, I encourage you to watch as many games in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as possible. There are few things in sports that can compare to the fun and unpredictability that happen in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With Anaheim’s first round series against Nashville starting on Friday, the focus is on getting healthy. While not everyone is expected back, it does look like most players will hopefully be available towards the end of the series if it goes to a sixth or seventh game.
For more updates on Anaheim’s injuries visit: State of Anaheim: Murray Provides Injury Updates
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