At first, things seemed to be tending downwards for the Anaheim Ducks. They were off to yet another slow October, much to the chagrin of the entire organization and its fans. The 1-3-1 start was the same exact slow start as last year, which ultimately ended in a Pacific Division championship, though it also resulted in a first-round exit to the Nashville Predators and the firing of head coach Bruce Boudreau. Old/new head coach Randy Carlyle, re-hired during the off-season to replace Boudreau, promised this team would be different than his predecessor’s team. At first, his words were baseless, as his team’s actions proved otherwise.
But then the Ducks won two straight games, beating the Philadelphia Flyers to close out their road trip and then winning their home opener Sunday against the previously undefeated Vancouver Canucks. The Ducks only got into the penalty box twice Sunday, which was the least amount of penalties the Ducks have been called for in almost a week. They were fast, they put points in the board, and had great puck movement and puck handling. It was almost like they were a different team from the team that wore those same sweaters since the beginning of the season.
Up until recently, it seemed problems from the Boudreau era had spilled over to the second Carlyle era. Other than the slow season start, the team lacked explosiveness and speed, especially in the second period. The Ducks surrendered 7 goals in the second period in 5 games this season before Sunday, while only scoring 2 goals in the period themselves. Sunday, the team did not allow a goal in the 2nd and got a boost from Cam Fowler, the first time the Ducks “won” the second period all season. This lack of effectiveness in the second period followed them back to the 2014 season. That team had the distinction of being dreadful in the middle period but exceptional in the 3rd period, able to overcome 1 or 2 goal deficits and escaping those situations with victories. Last season’s team often found themselves in the same situations though they lacked Teemu Selanne’s explosiveness and his ability to generate goals and would lose those close games more often than not. This season, the Ducks are 26th in goals per game, averaging 2.3 goals per game, helped by Sunday’s 4 goal effort. The signing of RFA Rickard Rakell should give the Ducks a further boost in that department.
John Gibson has struggled mightily since being deemed the “Chosen One” by the Ducks, as the team shipped longtime net minder Frederick Anderson to Toronto over the off-season. Gibson has a goals against average of 2.64 this young season, though his struggles aren’t helped by the team in front of him. The eventual resigning of young defenseman Hampus Lindholm will certainly help, as it means he will take back his place as a top 4 defenseman, pushing one of the lesser defensemen (hopefully the golem on skates Kevin Bieksa or the infuriatingly awful Clayton Stoner) out of the rotation. The eventual call-ups of young defensemen Shea Theodore and Jacob Larsson will (optimistically) push the other out.
The team also seems to be falling more in line with their reputation of being a “dirty” team, as they’ve been one of the most penalized teams in the NHL during this young season. In fact, the Ducks trail only the Calgary Flames in minor penalties this season and rank 9th in total penalty minutes.
Thursday’s victory in Philadelphia earned the Ducks their first victory this season, while the Ducks got their first points from an overtime loss in Brooklyn to the New York Islanders last Saturday. While the Ducks’ first five games have all been on the road and facing stiff competition from teams like Dallas, Pittsburgh, and the aforementioned Islanders, a team that has expectations of a Stanley Cup should be able to squeak out wins on the road versus teams like the New Jersey Devils, who beat the Ducks 2-1 Tuesday night.
So how do we fix this nightmare? I don’t have all the answers, but I think there are some moves that can be made in the interim to help this team going forward. The Nick Ritchie experiment has failed for the most part, as he has no chemistry whatsoever with Getzlaf and Perry on the first line. He scored his first NHL goal Sunday, but that was the lone bright spot in an otherwise lackluster start to the season. Jakob Silfverberg needs to be moved back up to the first line, where Ritchie can slide into the second line and play with Cogliano and Kesler. Ritchie and Kesler on the ice together would create a unique matchup problem because of their size and physicality. Second, Bruce Murray needs to find some way to re-sign Hampus Lindholm. The team is suffering mightily without his presence, and guys like Korbinian Holzer and Josh Manson are not the answer. Murray also needs to find some way to part with Clayton Stoner and Kevin Bieksa, who are a liability as it is when, but when paired together might as well not even be on the ice. If Murray is unable to do so, Carlyle needs to split up the two old guys and put them on a line with the younger defensemen, if not only to cut their ineffectiveness with guys like Fowler and Vatanen. A stronger defensive front would make life much easier for John Gibson and his backup, Jonathan Bernier. Lastly, the team needs to be more disciplined on the ice and need to stop getting called for stupid penalties. I understand the officials have been a bit overbearing on them but to be called for this many penalties in a short amount of time is unacceptable. The Ducks have a date Tuesday with the defending Western Conference Champion San Diego Sharks.