Anaheim calling to the hockey world...
After a tough loss to the Kings, Anaheim now has just four games before the Olympic break. The team will face Los Angeles again on Monday at the Pond, but will have two games against the league-worst Oilers and one against the Flames to close out their pre-Vancouver Games schedule.
Just 5 points out of the 8th seed mix, these next four games seem a prime opportunity for the Ducks to jockey for position on the playoff bubble and, perhaps, return on March 3rd as a playoff team, however ephemeral that designation might be. Daniel, assuming it's possible for the Ducks to become an 8th seed before the Olympic Break, would doing so have any effect on their actual playoff chances?
I really don't think it's going to have too much of an effect on their playoff chances. The Ducks have been an up and down team and haven't been able to string together a legitimate winning streak all year. The closest they've come was the recent five game winning streak that was sunk by the Sharks. Shockingly, that's also the length of their longest losing streak, with a couple of four game streaks mixed in just for color. This is the epitome of a .500 team. They win a couple and they lose couple. Sure a 9-6 January was a little bit more on the winning side, but that can only be so helpful.
This stretch of games wasn't very important for the Ducks last year. They went 2-3 in games 58-62 before finishing 12-6-2. Notice that run though. It's an average of 2 wins to 1 loss. Something the Ducks haven't really been able to do this year. I know the Ducks haven't been at full strength and that the flashes of brilliance have been there. However, consistency is what gets you into the playoffs. The Ducks have not been consistent. You can blame the D, you can blame the forwards and you can blame inconsistent goaltending earlier in the year. The fact remains that the Ducks need an epic wining streak to get into and keep their playoff position. Anything short of that will have them on the outside looking in. Winning these games might help down that path, but winning just them and having that playoff position during the Olympic break will not uniquely improve their chances, because other teams will be good enough to make up those five games down the stretch. In the end, it will be the other 20 games that truly decide whether or not the Ducks will get the honor to once again compete for Lord Stanley's Cup.
I think this is actually an important stretch. The ability to pick up at least four points here against the Oilers and to take four away from the Kings and Flames is huge. For all the point inflation in the NHL, two points is still two points; it doesn't matter who gave them to you. If the Ducks pick up these two wins against the Oilers, they can maybe afford to lose their matchups with San Jose or Chicago next month.
I also can't stress enough the value of being in position when other teams get healthy. Anaheim's performance so far could be a terrible projection of their performance in the last 20. Maybe the Oilers will get better, and the rest of the Northwest touring the Pacific Division won't get easier as they jockey for the 3 seed. And with Anaheim sending eight players to Vancouver, Joffrey Lupul's about the only Duck that will be feeling rested come March 3rd. There's no telling how many wins they can realistically expect form the last 20 game stretch.
And while I agree that Anaheim will need a real streak to make the Playoffs, I think this is their easiest chance at one all season. They'll have a long homestand next month, sure, but they would have to come up big against the Predators, the Sharks or the Blackhawks to build momentum through that stretch. Don't get me wrong. I can't say there's anything 'do or die' about this; there's still a lot of work ahead of them. But any team that wastes the opportunity to stockpile points before the break will find itself on a grueling pace with bare bones rations going into April.