By Thomas Harrington
The Anaheim Ducks had about as good an end to the regular season as they could have hoped for. They won all four games in April and went 10-1-1 in the final 12 games of the season and passed San Jose for second place in the Pacific Division. With the end of the regular season, I’ll be combining the usual monthly and 10 game reviews into a single post for April and the final 12 games of the season. Also, because of how good the team was to close out the season, I’ll only be focusing on the positives and leave off the negatives. Given the run of injuries that Anaheim has had to their top players this season, finishing with over 100 points for the fifth straight season is a truly gargantuan achievement, but the Ducks won’t be satisfied with that.
Anaheim’s best game in April was their 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. The Wild actually struck first in this game, a powerplay goal scored by Matt Dumba. Nick Ritchie tied the game up on one of the ugliest goals of his career, and his pass from behind the net hit a Minnesota defenseman in the chest and bounced in. There was no scoring in the second. When the third started, the St. Louis Blues had already lost, meaning that the Ducks would clinch a playoff spot with a win. With that in their heads, the Ducks came out and dominated the final frame. Ondrej Kase, a former seventh round pick, scored his 20th goal of the season to give the Ducks the 2-1 lead, and Andrew Cogliano scored into the empty net to propel the Ducks to the playoffs for the sixth straight season.
Anaheim’s best forward to close out the season was Ryan Getzlaf. While he only scored one goal, he led the team with nine assists and was tied for the team lead with 10 points in the season’s final 12 games. More important than his scoring was his overall play. When he was on the ice and had the puck, he went and made something happen. He played excellently in the defensive zone and was playing playoff-like hockey to close out the season.
The Ducks’ best defenseman over the final 12 games was Josh Manson. His consistent level of play this season has been a huge boon to an often-injured defensive core. That injury bug finally caught up to Manson, causing him to miss two games, the first two that he has missed all season. Despite missing those two games, he still led the defense with five assists and seven points. With Cam Fowler injured, he and Hampus Lindholm have seen their ice time go up, and they’ve responded with some of their best hockey of the season.
John Gibson left the game against the Avalanche with an injury, leaving Ryan Miller to come in and be the starter over the final three games of the season, and he played great. He went 4-0 in April and picked up a shutout in the final game of the season against Arizona, a team that has been playing very well down the stretch. If Miller is called upon during the playoffs, the Ducks can be confident that they’ll still have a capable netminder behind them.
The Ducks had 11 powerplay opportunities in four games in April and managed to score two goals: one by Rickard Rakell and one by Adam Henrique. Rakell and Henrique also led the team with two powerplay points each in April. The Ducks were shorthanded a total of 12 times in April and allowed only two powerplay goals against.
Anaheim used three rookies to close out the season: Marcus Pettersson, Andy Welinski, and Troy Terry. Pettersson played in all 12 games and recorded three assists. He’s really helped solidify the team’s bottom defensive pair. With Fowler out, Welinski has gone from being a healthy scratch to appearing in the final three games of the season. He played about 14 to 17 minutes in those three games and didn’t look too overwhelmed. Terry recently finished his NCAA career and signed his ELC with the Ducks. He appeared in two games with Anaheim and went scoreless. Despite not finding the back of the net, he had a couple good chances and showed why the team thinks so highly of his future. In terms of the playoffs, Pettersson is pretty much guaranteed to play just about every game for the Ducks. For Welinski, it will primarily depend on the health of the rest of the defensive core. For Terry, it will depend on what kind of fourth line the team wants. If they want a more skilled group out there, he’ll likely be in the lineup. If they want more of a veteran, hard-hitting group, he probably won’t be. Personally, I don’t think he’ll play in game one, but he could get an opportunity later in the series against San Jose.
On the injury front, the Ducks ended the season without Fowler, Kevin Bieksa, Gibson, and Patrick Eaves. The good news is that Gibson and Bieksa were both at practice on Monday, and I expect Gibson to be starting in game one. Fowler will be out for the beginning of the series against San Jose, but it remains to be seen how much time he’ll miss. It was finally announced that Eaves is officially done for the season, but he’s hoping to be back next year.
A few more things that caught my eye over the final 12 games of the season. Rakell scored four goals and 10 points. His final goal of the season was his 34th, a new career high. In a surprising result, Cogliano led the team in goals, and his nine points were only one behind Getzlaf and Rakell. Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg also recorded nine points. Henrique, Rakell, and Ritchie were all tied for second with four goals each. That kind of balanced scoring is exactly what the team needs as the playoffs begin. Brandon Montour, Lindholm, and Francois Beauchemin all had six points, tying for second on defense behind Manson. Beauchemin has been playing his best hockey of the season over the last few weeks. As one of the veteran leaders on this team, his upswing in play could be a huge factor against the Sharks if it can continue.
After a tumultuous start to the season, the Ducks are exactly where they want to be in round one, opening at home against their in-state rivals. The Sharks are by no means a team that can be taken lightly, but the Ducks look ready for the challenge. While the Ducks aren’t the favorites of the west the way they have been in years past, they are still a deep and dangerous team that are hard to contain when they get going.
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April 10th, 2018