The Anaheim Ducks and the Carolina Hurricanes meet up for the second game in a five game home stand in Anaheim. The teams met up in mid-November in Carolina, which the Canes won in a shootout - one of the few the club has been in this season. There’s no other real storyline between the sides in this one beside two teams both wanting points. The Hurricanes are the more desperate hockey club, needing any points they can get to close in on the wild card in the East. The Canes are also coming off a Saturday loss against the Los Angeles Kings.
In this second game back after the Olympic break, the Ducks are more concerned about rounding their play into form for the playoffs. While the San Jose Sharks have a chance at catching Anaheim for first in the Pacific, the team isn’t in real threat to drop out of the playoffs barring a colossal collapse. These last 20-ish games are less about making a strong run to get in and more about overall form and finishing position - being on top figures to net the Ducks an easier matchup in the first round.
A couple of notes from yesterday: congrats to Tim Jackman for his one year contract extension at $637K. Like him or not, agree with his usage or not, or question his role in the league (or not), he’s been a serviceable player for the Ducks in the limited minutes he’s played. I have no real issue with it, although I recognize many will complain that he prevents a younger player from seeing the ice. Mathieu Perreault is day-to-day after getting hit into the boards awkwardly against the St. Louis Blues. Boudreau is considering trying Jakob Silfverberg out at pivot, which YES PLEASE. Apparently, this has been a thought of Gabby’s for a while. I could see it against weaker competition (standings-wise) from the East (less risk of losing ground to playoff opponents) so that coach has an idea of what options he has in the postseason.
Keys to the Game: Engagement is the key to this game. Other than the two points it represents, this game means nothing. It is not against a division rival, it is not even against a conference foe. There is no bad blood between players or coaches or equipment managers. It is just an early game on a Sunday, number 60-something on a schedule of 82. The inclination might be to save all the intensity for a more meaningful game. But the guys have to "get up for this game" the same way they do against the Kings, Blues, or Chicago Blackhawks.
As a personal key, I want to see the Ducks improve their neutral zone play - both in transition to offense and in prevention of offense against. As play ramps up for postseason hockey, improved transitions both to offense and to defense will signal a team wanting to exert its game and not chase its opponent’s game. That will make this club more threatening to play against in the playoffs.
What Can We Learn From this Game: This is the beginning of the "stretch run" of games, the last bit of business before the postseason. We want to see a consistent team this stretch. Last season, we saw faltering, inconsistent play from this group. Now that the guys have a game back under their legs after the break, it is time to put together a good run of consistent play. I think we’d all take complaints about power play inefficiencies while scoring two or three even strength goals per game instead of arguing about player usage, or something typical after losses.
Fearless Prediction: Justin Faulk and Cam Fowler get into a fight right off the opening faceoff to show USA Hockey how much grit and toughness each has for the next Olympic squad. Someone has to replace Brooks Orpik’s minutes.
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