The hockey world may spend the next week focusing on HBO's first installments of 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic (and since the Ducks face the Caps on the night of the premiere, don't count on avoiding the hype).
For Anaheim, however, the coming week represents a grueling road trip through the Eastern Conference before a much-deserved Christmas break. The team's position in the standings still isn't quite in focus. Anaheim has logged more games played than any other NHL team-- both the Islanders and Kings still have six games in hand on the Ducks --and establishing a strong position now may be more important than digging deep when the pressure is on and the playoff picture is clear.
Daniel, we ask this a lot, but tough road trips are par for the course for a west coast team, and so the question seems valid every time we ask it. Is this a make or break trip for Anaheim's season?
This is definitely a make or break trip for the Ducks. You've already discussed the Ducks poor point acquisition percentage. The only reason we currently occupy a playoff spot is because we have played more games than everyone else in the conference. The majority of teams behind us in the standings right now have four games to close a very small point gap.
The Ducks are going to need a phenomenal road trip to make sure they can generate some distance between themselves and the bottom of the Western Conference. Our good work at home has been helpful, but we are going to need to get points on the road to stand a chance. The West is simply too strong. I think the Anaheim fans can determine their fate by recognizing three scenarios.
First, the Ducks might have a very solid road trip where they collect ten or more of the fourteen available points. This would give them the cushion they need to get themselves into serious playoff contention. Second, the Ducks could hover in that 6-10 point range. That kind of continued mediocrity would have Ducks fans hoping for the playoffs instead of controlling their own fate. Finally, if the Ducks come back with less than 6 points, it's time to start looking at top 10 prospects again. It's a long season but you're going to start talking about needing help if the Ducks continue to falter in the second half.
The Ducks need to get it done on this trip and get themselves firmly planted in the playoff discussion. If they don't, it's going to be a tough new year filled with questions about why this team can't succeed.
It's still early, but I can definitely see the downward spiral on the horizon should the Ducks come back empty handed. It was a bad stretch of games the past couple of years that had this team talking about needing a winning streak down the stretch to get back into the playoff picture. And I think the "talk" is the important part. This is a team that can't spend the second half of the season talking about how they no longer have a margin of error.
The climate of complacency seems more prevalent in that locker room than it has been in previous years. You can't add heaps and heaps of pressure to that formula. That doesn't mean that the math is such that losing these games will make it impossible to make the playoffs this season, or even that this is the key group of games that could tank the season.
But you can see how a disastrous road trip here will send this team back into "find yourselves" mode, and then how getting back into the point race will require consistency and dominance that this team has shown only in flashes, maybe right up until April when the Ducks face the Stars and then the Sharks twice and then the Kings twice.
They've got to beat as many teams as they can now, before they get to the four point games, before they get to the pressure games, before they get to the point in the season where they really have a reason to be down on themselves should they give away leads and points to the opposition.