After a five day homestand, the Ducks take a losing record back out on the road for a four game trip that includes a stop in Columbus on Wednesday, then a 500 mile trek to Philadelphia against the Flyers the following night. After that, they'll get a day's rest before facing the Red Wings on Saturday, then two days rest before facing the Stars the following Tuesday.
It's an important road trip for a team that stumbled while opening the season away from home and an organization that may have missed the playoffs on the strength of poor road performance last year. But Arthur, it's still early in the season. So can the Ducks afford to come back from this road trip a .500 team or less, or do they have to go out and get 6, or maybe even 8 points?
I think they can afford to come back .500 or less IF they can also manage to accomplish the things that don't show up in the league standings. For example, if Cam Fowler plays the first three games of the road trip, then the game against the Red Wings will be his ninth. This team can make a commitment to him in Dallas next Tuesday, and he may come back home a very different player for it, brimming with the confidence he showed when he rushed the puck on the Coyotes before he was injured. If Anaheim can give him a clear role, and let him know that the worst place they'll send him in the near future is the press box, then that can change the tenor of this defense completely.
Also on defense, they're bringing a healthy Lydman and an activated Lilja on the road. This team can really start bonding and getting to know each other out there. There isn't the specter of players returning or being added to the lineup that there was early in the season, and there probably won't be until Lupul and Sutton come back. This is the roster right now, and these four games are an opportunity for this team to become a team.
That being said, they have to find some wins together. They do need some points on this road trip. There's something to be said for learning to lose together and bounce back, but there's also something to be said for learning gut out a win when you don't have your best stuff, not to mention staying the the course on back to backs on the road. It can still be a successful road trip, even if it doesn't manifest itself in the win column.
I think the Ducks have to come home with 5 points or better, plain and simple. A poor road trip won't bury them in the standings, but this team had some serious Scooby Doo issues last year. They frequently seemed to be turning the wheels as fast as they could only to find they were actually getting nowhere. Too often the Ducks would win a couple and lose a couple, win a couple and lose a lot. The players are different. Cam Fowler has been extraordinary, so far. Lydman is earning his money. If Lilja continues to solidify the bottom pair, all the prognosticators who said the D wouldn't be good enough to get Anaheim into the bottom 8 of the Western Conference might have a few regrets. But, I still think they need to prove to themselves that they can beat back the specter of last year. A successful road trip would go a long way to solidifying their identity and avoiding the trap of inconsistency that haunted them last season.
In terms of points, this isn't a make or break trip. There's a huge chance that even if they come back with 4 points or fewer, they can still fight back and have a very successful season, obviously. But a strong road trip could generate the type of confidence and consistency that has been the biggest downfall in recent memory for this team.