Just like that, we’re halfway through the NHL season (well…we’re actually 50 games in), and the Ducks are on the outside looking in. The two-time defending Pacific Division champs are currently sitting at 5th place in their domain that they have commanded in recent years. If that isn’t concerning enough, they are sitting outside of the Western Conference Wild Card race as well. But now is no time to panic, the Ducks have been here before, and seem to find a catalyst from the All Star break to spark a second half run, and look poised take on the challenge this year.
The 2015-16 Ducks closed out the first half of the season at 22-18-7 (51 points), averaging a paltry 1.085 points per game. Come second half, the red hot Ducks finished strong at 46-25-11, clinching first place in their division and averaging an impressive 1.486 points. Similar story last year (although with a considerably better start), the Ducks started 27-15-9, averaging 1.245 points per game. Enter the post-All-Star Ducks, boosting that average to 1.355, proving to be one of the hottest teams in the second half of the season, along with the returning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and once again claiming their position at the top of the coveted Pacific Division.
History tends to repeat itself, as the Ducks are not exactly where they would like to be – posting a meager 1.14 points per game, and sitting outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (although very much in the race). But if slow starts have become this team’s M.O., digging themselves out tends to follow. The Ducks finished strong at 6-2-2 (14 points) in their last 10 games, accounting for 25 percent of their total points in just 20 percent of the season. Although the sample size is small, the other variables involved include the return of a couple familiar faces in Ryan & Ryan, leaving Ducks’ fans hopeful entering All-Star Weekend.
Being plagued by injury certainly didn’t help the Ducks case early on, and fans can breathe a sigh of relief with the return of their stars, led by none other then El Capitan, Ryan Getzlaf. Getz’s impact on this team cannot be put into words. He’s the Captain, the vocal leader, and the heart and soul of this roster. Intangibles aside, his impact on the game cannot be understated (not that any fans of this team would…). The 32 year old veteran has shown zero signs of slowing down, leading the entire NHL with 0.96 assists per game, posting 25 in the 26 games he’s played. His name is up there with NHL superstars like Brad Marchand (BOS), NHL point leader Nikita Kucherov (TB), and Nathan McKinnon (COL), trailing only these three names in points per game, with an impressive 1.192. Getzlaf is truly a player who makes everyone around him better, as the Ducks are 16-8-2 with him in the lineup – accumulating 68% percent of the teams total points in just 26 games! His presence will be instrumental in bringing them back to the playoffs for the 6th straight season.
Another storyline this year has been the continued progression of the young Swedish scorer, Rickard Rakell. Slick Rick lit the lamp 18 times this year, and leads the whole team in goals, and total points, with 36. Rakell is the Ducks’ lone All Star this season, and is on pace to post 59 points. The last Duck not named Ryan Getzlaf to score 60 points in a season was Corey Perry in the 2015-16 season, and Rakell is showing all the signs of being the star this team needs. At only 24 years old, he’s improved every year in terms of point scored, and has all the potential to be a premier scorer in this league. His performance is only looking to improve with the consistent presence of the league’s best assist man by his side.
The acquisition of Adam Henrique could play big in the second half for Anaheim. Acquired in a trade in late November for defensemen Sami Vatanen, the 27 year old vet, and consistent 40-50 point player helped contribute to the late offensive surge the Ducks displayed. In just 25 games as a Duck, Henrique added 15 points, closing out the first half with a 5 game scoring streak, scoring 4 goals and two assists. He’s a fun player to watch, and you got to love a player who posterizes the guy he’s traded for shortly thereafter.
Our own Iron Man, Andrew Cogliano had to say goodbye to his 830 game streak (4th longest in NHL history) due to a 2 game suspension for his hit on Adrian Kempe of the Los Angeles Kings. Bias aside, we can admit the hit was late. We can also admit him receiving a 2 game suspension in a sport where we cheer on guys who drop their gloves and exchange fists (in most cases outside of a hockey rink, we’d consider this assault), is kind of funny. Cogs is a gritty player and it was sad to see his streak go. You can see it in his emotional interview here. You can’t help but feel bad for a guy who is as truly passionate for the game as he is.
Some other notables from this season have been Josh Manson, Antoine Vermette, and Hampus Lindholm. Manson came out of nowhere, contributing 23 points, surpassing our normal offensive contributing defenseman, Cam Fowler (18 points). Vermette, the 35 year old faceoff specialist, won 526 of his 876 faceoffs. That’s 60 percent, and second in all of the NHL. This is a huge asset to have, and we will see the value in big moments. Lindholm is an exciting young player to watch, and a staple of the defensive corps. He’s had some big moments this year, including clinching the victory over the Islanders on December 22nd with his hat-trick, overtime goal.
Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg are both on pace to post 40 points, and their continued consistent production will be important to the teams success. The young Ondrej Kase has also been a consistent contributor with double-digit goals and assists (12,10).
The goalie play has been slightly above average. John Gibson missed some time, where we got to see Ryan Miller flash his glove. Miller did an excellent job filling in for 14 games, posting a .929 save %, which would rank top 5 in the league (if he had started the required amount of games). Gibson himself hasn’t been too shabby, ranking above average in terms of save percentage. We can expect the few days of rest to do Gibby well, as it’s always difficult battling ailments, especially at goalie.
As mentioned before, we’re all excited for Ryan Kesler’s return. Kesler began the season out indefinitely because of an offseason hip surgery. Since his return in late December, Kesler has provided a spark. The Ducks went 8-4-1 with him in the lineup. Kesler’s value as a leader was also missed, and you never want a high-40 to high-50 guy absent from your lineup. Not to mention, every team needs an instigator, and Kesler is top-notch when it comes to getting into the heads’ of opponents.
The Ducks open up the second half with a 5 game road trip (10-8-6 on the road), and a very difficult matchup in Boston – against a top 3 team in the NHL. With all the pieces seemingly falling into place at the right time, and just 1 point out of a divisional playoff spot, and a tiebreaker out of a wildcard spot, we can be excited for another thrilling second half of Anaheim Ducks hockey. Keep calm and quack on.