The Ducks roster is set, and they've even managed to put a hard fought win against the Red Wings under their belt, a christening by fire for the squad that will look to voyage from 9th to some secure position above the postseason cutoff line.
Obviously, fans have their eyes toward a return of injured stalwarts Koivu and Hiller, but the challenge of the stretch run stands squarely in front of las night's squad of healthy Ducks. So, Arthur, what do you think of the chances that last night's team makes the playoffs?
Well, it's clear that the goaltending will have to hold, at least feigning some semblance of what it was under Jonas Hiller's watch. The penalty kill will also have to hold, should the Ducks run into an officiating experience like the one they experienced last night. After that, I think the scorers will have to finish. With all of those things coming together, I don't see how this team couldn't keep pace.
Now, that all seems logical, but it's a far cry from where I thought we'd be at the beginning of this season. Nowhere in there did I say that the defense would have to find competence, commit to the system, or be the best pylons they can be. It feels like a solid corps with solid pairings, right now. If they can ease the load on their goaltender, keep themselves out of the penalty box (or keep the penalties out of the back of their net) and move the puck to the forwards, they obviously participate in every goal I mentioned. But based on their performance of late, I wouldn't mind them just staying the course. It's miles from where this corps was to open the season.
The new defense is more than we could have hoped for when the season began. I spent so much time talking about how badly we wanted Cam Fowler to improve by playing with Beauchemin, I forgot there was another smooth skating young defensemen who could benefit from Beauchemin's arrival. Fowler has been phenomenal, but Sbisa has been extraordinarily impressive as well.
Last night's roster can make the playoffs. Ellis is proving himself a suitable alternative, albeit no Jonas Hiller. You already commented on the improvements on D, and the Ducks looked dangerous tonight. They were sending too many shots wide, but every line seemed to be getting good opportunities, even Winchester-Chipchura-Brookbank. The top PP unit generated quality chances, they just couldn't finish.
Unfortunately, It's important to face the reality that the Ducks probably can't control their own destiny. Winning is helpful, but everyone in the West is playing everybody else. When two teams that are ahead of you in the standings play, one of them is getting two points, and the other might be getting one too. It makes the chase difficult. The Ducks are rooting for one team one day, and against them the next. There's plenty of time for them to work this out, but unless they can go undefeated, they'll need help. One way or the other, this is the team that has to do it. Let's hope they can.