By Thomas Harrington
After their best month of the season in January, the Ducks stumbled through February with a record of 4-6-1, giving them nine points in 11 games. Part of this can be blamed on a monster road trip that the Ducks struggled through, but the Ducks were inconsistent at home as well. With just over 20 games left in the regular season, the Ducks need to right the ship going forward.
Anaheim’s best game of the month was their 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild. There are no better head coaches than Bruce Boudreau in the regular season. He’s won a division title in every full season that he’s coached, and it looks like he will again with Minnesota, as only Chicago has a legitimate shot at catching them. The Wild are also practically unbeatable at home, as they lead the Western Conference in home wins. After picking up only one win in the first five games of the road trip, finishing it off in Minnesota looked like a recipe for disaster for the Ducks. However, the Ducks persevered, and with a little luck, were able to shut down the Wild’s attack. Joseph Cramarossa scored less than five minutes into the game and that was all the offense the Ducks needed, as John Gibson stopped all 37 shots he faced, including 13 on the powerplay. February wasn’t kind to the Ducks, but anytime you can shut out the best team in the conference on the road is a great game.
Anaheim had a few games in February that were bad, but their 3-2 loss to the Coyotes was just brutal. The Ducks actually played pretty well in the second and third periods, but they did not start the game out well and Jonathan Bernier had one of his worst games as a Duck. After 20 minutes, the team was behind 3-0 and Bernier had only made three saves. In the final two periods, Ryan Getzlaf scored twice, including a goal in the final minute of the game, but it just wasn’t enough. Arizona is sitting at the bottom of the NHL. The only team worse than them are the Colorado Avalanche, who are having one of the worst seasons of a team in the salary cap era. Losing to a team like the Coyotes is simply not acceptable, especially when the Ducks were asleep at the wheel for the first period. If they had launched over 50 shots at Mike Smith and made him steal the game, that would be one thing, but that’s not what happened. Smith actually had to leave the game and Marek Langhamer came in and played for the final 15 minutes. He’s split time between the AHL and ECHL this season and these were his first minutes in the NHL. Anaheim was never able to get sustained pressure on him, though he did make one great save on Sami Vatanen in the closing seconds of the game. The Ducks had an opportunity to at least tie this game up, if not win it outright, but were not able to do so. Credit to Arizona’s defense, but this was a game the Ducks should have won.
On the special teams front, Anaheim’s power play and penalty kill went in dramatically different directions. In the 11 games of February, the Ducks scored only one power play goal, as Antoine Vermette was the only player to find the back of the twine on the man advantage. One bad month of a powerplay is a slump, but Anaheim’s power play also sputtered in the month of January. Part of this slump is a lack of opportunity, as the Ducks received no powerplays against Minnesota, and part of it is just bad luck/hot goaltending, but part of it is the Anaheim players not doing a good enough job to get shots to the net while there is traffic in front of the goalie. To try and get their power play kickstarted, the Ducks acquired Patrick Eaves from Dallas. While he didn’t score in his first game with the Ducks, he did have five shots on goal and went to the crease constantly. At one point, while he was screening the goalie, Hampus Lindholm nailed the post. Hopefully. he can be the catalyst to help turn Anaheim’s man advantage around. On the penalty kill front, however, Anaheim was spectacular in February, as they only allowed four power play goals against on 40 opportunities. Both Gibson and Bernier did some of their best work while the Ducks were down a man. Andrew Cogliano also scored a shorthanded goal, meaning the team had as many shorthanded goals as it did powerplay goals in February. With Vermette out, there was some concern of Anaheim’s penalty kill fading, but Ryan Kesler has stepped up even more and gotten even better while the Ducks are down a man. His play, combined with the strong defense the team is receiving from Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, and Lindholm, are the other primary reasons for Anaheim’s strong penalty killing unit last month.
With February behind them, Anaheim is now enjoying its bye week and the trade deadline is directly in front of them. While Anaheim is a safe bet for the playoffs, they will likely not advance very far if some help isn’t brought in to improve Anaheim’s anemic offense. In 11 games in February, the Ducks only scored 24 goals, barely more than two a game. They were held to just one goal six times. While they did win two of those games, it’s clear that Anaheim’s offense needs to improve. Hopefully, Eaves will be able to help out with that, but if not, Bob Murray is going to need to bring in more offense before the deadline passes on Wednesday.
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February 27th, 2017