It will have been four full days off for the Anaheim Ducks when they strap on the skates to face the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night at Honda Center, before another five day window ahead of a four-game road strip to New York and New Jersey.
Still, though a trickle it may be (began yesterday with the reassigning of Nick Ritchie to San Diego), there is some chatter-worthy news from today's practice session courtesy of the Orange County Register's Eric Stephens and the Los Angeles Times' Curtis Zupke. We'll add our spin on their coverage 'News and Views' style, with the primary source info first before providing a brief bit of commentary.
Some 3-on-3 combos to maybe file away: Lindholm-Kesler-Silverberg, Cogliano-Getzlaf-Fowler, Perry-Santorelli-Vatanen, Rakell-Hagelin-Bieksa.— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) December 10, 2015
It's no secret that the Ducks have had their struggles in the new three-on-three overtime format, with five overtime losses and an 0-4 mark in games ending in the five minute session. To this point, head coach Bruce Boudreau has tried to keep regular line combinations together for extra time, but this is a case where his vaunted line blender makes a lot of sense.
When the Ducks have lost at three-on-three, it's been on either catastrophic turnovers, or a lack of speed amongst the three-man unit to recover from a missed read. Instead of trying to force the heavy minutes combo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, it'd be interested to see each partnered with a different, speedier player in Andrew Cogliano and Mike Santorelli respectively. The teams that have had the most success at three-on-three have generally been the ones with the best skaters, so it makes sense to try and balance the combinations out so they won't necessarily be out-quicked, even if in some cases it sacrifices the on-paper finishing talent of the trio.
BB said Jiri Sekac (ankle) isn't ready for tomorrow but will go with Ducks on road trip. Patrick Maroon will be in against Hurricanes.— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) December 10, 2015
Turns out both bits of speculation regarding Ritchie's roster move were correct, to varying degrees. The question is now where does Maroon slot in tomorrow night? Considering the role Ritchie was asked to fill on the second line and the physicality to Maroon's game it would make sense, especially considering he was initially slotted in that spot last season during training camp.
Still, the team's handling of the burly left wing this year makes it hard to figure how they'll deploy him. It could be a return to the fourth line with perhaps Santorelli moving up, considering Maroon has been used with Chris Stewart (90:58 of his 232:44 even strength ice time) most as his opposing wing thus far.
An off the board idea that could play on the history of the Ducks top line, as well as potentially help both the lineup and roster for the future is this: Drop Rickard Rakell and his dynamic offensive presence to the second line, which has had great difficulties this season scoring, and slot Maroon alongside Getzlaf and Perry to see if that trio can reattain their previous levels (which are amongst the best of any player to skate with the Twins) of production. If it works, not only does Rakell further energize Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg and pick up second line production, but Maroon puts some pucks in the net and becomes a much more appealing trade piece to be dealt (as Kids Club players seemingly are) to make room for the return of Ritchie. Pure, idle speculation though, that.
I'm told that Simon Despres is improving but not 100 percent. Obviously not skating.— Curtis Zupke (@curtiszupke) December 10, 2015
Thus is the nature of concussions, and head injuries in general. Despres has been missed on the Anaheim backend, greatly in the opening month, but that loss has been lessened somewhat by a pair of factors: Josh Manson proving that he's ready for that one-way contract that will kick in next season, and Boudreau's decision to switch Cam Fowler to the top minute defense pair with Kevin Bieksa in place of Hampus Lindholm.
Some eye popping numbers: When skating with Bieksa, Lindholm's even-strength shot attempt percentage was 49.2%, when not skating with him it's 62.2%. The Lindholm-Bieksa duo saw the Ducks score just 28.6% of the goals when they were together; Lindholm's goals for percentage has risen to 40.0%, while Bieksa's has leapt to 47.8%. For Fowler's part, his 50.1 SAT% without Bieksa was not seriously affected, as the Fowler-Bieksa combo has a 49.4 SAT%. Partnering the two together also helped Fowler's GF% rise from 30.8% to 50% with Bieksa. That decision to elevate Fowler alongside Bieksa has been of tremendous consequence, and can fairly be pointed to as a coaching decision that helped turn the early season struggles around.
When Despres returns it will leave some interesting decisions to be made on the rearguard. Still, it's looking more and more like that won't happen until some time in 2016.
Nate Thompson didn't practice. Got today off as BB said it was a personal matter but will play tomorrow.— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) December 10, 2015
While last season Nate Thompson's utilization as a third line center became one of the few things to bang the Ducks for analytically down the stretch and in the playoffs, the presence of Shawn Horcoff with Cogliano and Carl Hagelin seems to have settled him in to a much more effective slot. Go out and win face offs, play some hard minutes on the fourth line, and if need be move up to a wing spot in late game situations to help lock things down defensively. Easy enough.