Before the back-to-back set in Edmonton, the Ducks were playing arguably their worst hockey of the season. Our own Kyle Nicolas pretty much summed up what everyone was thinking at that point. The day after that article went up, the Ducks backed him up by losing to Calgary in what may have been the most frustrating game of the year, given the date on the calendar and the quality of the opponent.
Then came the Oilers games. The Ducks won both matchups with a combined score of 6-1, and they looked good doing it.
In the first game, Nick Bonino notched a pair of assists in his return to the lineup and Jonas Hiller held his own in net. In the second game, it was Viktor Fasth turning away the Oil. Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen both got on the board, Fowler on Sunday and Vatanen on Monday, and Vatanen in particular looked like a young man on the verge of taking a giant step forward. The Getzlaf and Koivu lines forechecked and backchecked with intensity, Ben Lovejoy and Francois Beauchemin played some great D, Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmieri showed flashes of offensive flair, and perhaps most intriguingly, Teemu Selanne was dangerous in the third period of the Monday game, which has not been the case for a while. In short, the Ducks looked like a team who had come together and turned the page on a bad stretch, ready to return the quality of play that characterized the first half of their season.
But they were playing the Oilers. And this year, as in the past several years, that means lots of bad turnovers. The Ducks were able to capitalize on these turnovers, but even when a turnover did not lead directly to a goal, it often led to a good chance or at least more offensive zone time. Over and over again, the Oilers ruined any chance they had of winning either game by constantly giving the puck up in all three zones of the ice.
So do the Ducks really deserve to be praised, or did the Oilers just make them look good? I think it's a little bit of both. There is no doubt that the Ducks raised their game in Edmonton from what it was in Calgary and before, but the terrible play of the Oilers certainly contributed to how well the Ducks seemed to play.
Which leads to my next question: Does it even matter? If the Ducks can dominate a team as thoroughly as they did to the Oilers, that should do wonders for their confidence. Even when faced with teams that don't surrender the puck like it's a plague rat — like Vancouver, who the Ducks so happen to be playing in their next game – the Ducks' strong play should hold up and help them win hockey games. Thursday's game is by no means a do-or-die scenario, and the Ducks' season certainly does not hang it the balance. Nevertheless, how the Ducks play against a division leading Western Conference powerhouse will say a lot about how they are going to play next week, when the games really matter. If they can carry the momentum of two convincing wins into Rogers Arena, then there is no reason they can't play well when the puck drops in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here's to a solid performance in Vancouver and a victory against the Coyotes at Honda Center to close out the regular season. Bring on Minnesota, Columbus, Detroit, or whoever else can slide into that seventh spot. If the Ducks can prove that they beat the Oilers and the Oilers did not just beat themselves, then they will be ready.