The Ducks may not have eliminated themselves from the playoffs mathematically, but they've certainly squandered any advantage granted them by the architects of this year's NHL schedule. What started as a seven game homestand, 8 of their first 9 at The Pond to open the month of March, is now a tough final 16 games. Seven of the remaining sixteen will be road games, ten against playoff teams and three played on the tail end of back to backs. The table suddenly looks impossible to run on this side of a four-game losing streak.
And yet, the table also seems set for a hero to emerge. So Daniel, who is your superstar? Who is the ONE player you think will have to make a 180 degree turn from his performance in this losing streak for the Ducks to make the playoffs?
I'm really torn about this. My instincts say Bobby Ryan, but my brain says Saku Koivu.
I'm going to go with Koivu. The second line has been invisible for 3 games now. They had 5 points in the first game out of the break and have had nothing since. I know wingers can find the net without having a great center to get them the puck, but the Ducks best games were the ones where Koivu's second line with Bobby Ryan and Dan Sexton was clicking on all cylinders. Not only was Koivu generating offense during that stretch, but he was a force in the circle and a defensive rock in late minute situations.
When Koivu has been playing a quality game, not just scoring, the Ducks have been at their best. If the second line is clicking, it eases some of the stress on the top line and makes it harder for teams to defend. Getzlaf might have finally used his anger to dominate last night, but it's going to take more than him Hulk-ing out to turn this team around. The Ducks have needed a second line center ever since they traded McDonald, and Koivu is the closest thing we've had to that. If he turns it around and becomes more of an impact player, then the Ducks might be able to turn this streak around.
Koivu isn't my choice, but I agree that secondary scoring is important and that he contributes in a myriad of ways, not the least of which is his play in the circle.
Still, my guy is Jonas Hiller. He hasn't been invisible during the losing streak, but he hasn't been a difference maker either. And he's let close games slip away from him. Against Colorado, you could argue the penalty killing needed to be better. But then after giving up one power play goal in the 1st period against Phoenix, he gave up two goals on the first five even strength shots of the 2nd period, giving the Coyotes a 3-0 lead. You can argue that Jonas didn't have goal support in that game, but he had a 3-0 lead against the Canadiens before he was beaten by a breakaway goal in what was only the team's third shot in eight minutes of the 2nd period. Maybe these aren't bad games, but he certainly hasn't made an argument for a three-star selection since he came back from Vancouver.
Of course, Jonas regularly has bad games. He had some in the Olympics. He even had some bad games during the Ducks stretch run last year. And at that time, I think a lot of people wrote off the bad games as Hiller adjusting to the fatigue of finally seeing regular starting time, but this year, I think he might be fighting the fatigue of the long season.
I've argued before that Hiller has yet to climb the hurdle of proving himself over the NHL schedule. His longest season plus playoffs in Davos ran 58 games. He played 59 with the Ducks last year. This year, if you count the Olympics, he now has 55 games played with 16 squarely in front of him. I wouldn't blame him for hitting a wall. But if the Ducks are going to make the playoffs, they need him to be a hero for the last 16 of the season. They need him to get hot, and they need him to keep every game close and winnable, whether it's the Blackhawks or the Oilers out there. And if he's going to make that new contract look like a discount, he can't just "transition" into a 60+ GP goaltender, he has to dominate, even with nothing left in the tank.