Our Anaheim Ducks have seen better days, friends.
They were the trendy pick by many media outlets to dethrone the Chicago Blackhawks as the Western Conference representatives in the Stanley Cup Final, but now, as the calendar year draws to a close, the team sits alone in the bottom slot of the West, and share the last-place spot of the NHL as a whole with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets. Part of this unfortunate positioning has to do somewhat with the fact that while other conference foes like the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames have been getting hot, the Ducks were sitting relatively idle; tonight's game in Newark is just their fourth in the last two weeks.
Justification (if you want to call it that) aside, today is a new day and Anaheim has another opportunity in front of them to begin creating some beneficial trends as they prepare for a reunion with former Duck Kyle Palmieri and his hometown New Jersey Devils.
Ducks: Thursday, 12/17 at Buffalo Sabres. "Ducks Denied A Goal For Seventh Time, Sabres Win 3-0"
Devils: Thursday, 12/17 vs Florida Panthers. "Another F Minus: New Jersey Devils Steamrolled by Florida Panthers, 1-5"
After being on the wrong end of a 44-save shutout by journeyman Chad Johnson, Bruce Boudreau went on the record by saying what many Anaheim fans have been very much aware of: "We need our best players to be our best players on a consistent basis. That's not happening right now." The offensive unit that was formerly one of the most feared in the NHL has been sputtering for the entire season, sitting dead last in the league as the only team with a less than two goal per game average (1.83). As the offense has mostly gone through Anaheim's top three players, two of them have struggled mightily since the 2015-16 campaign began. Through 30 games, Captain Ryan Getzlaf has only one goal on the year (an empty netter) and Ryan Kesler has three (also one empty net). December in particular has been rough in terms of offense, as the Ducks have yet to light the lamp more than twice on any given night. It hasn't entirely been for lack of effort, though, as they have yet to be outshot by any opponent this month.
|Shots For||Shots Against||Result|
|12/2 vs. Lightning||33||22||L 1-2|
|12/4 vs. Sharks||26||23||W 1-0|
|12/6 vs. Penguins||25||24||W 2-1|
|12/11 vs. Hurricanes||32||24||L 1-5|
|12/17 vs. Sabres||44||22||L 0-3|
This team has undergone some role reversal. The defense deserves all the credit in the world for their shot suppression as of late; it's the offense who's not putting any pucks past the goalies they're up against. Ironically enough, the games that Anaheim has won this month were the ones where they didn't surpass the 30-shot mark. Hopefully, the Ducks will continue this shot trend with the added benefit of goals that generally come with a higher number of chances.
New Jersey has been the definition of a seesaw team all season long. After beginning the year on a four-game losing streak, the Devils swung back up to .500 in just as many games, and since then, they haven't put together a streak of either kind longer than two games. Their last winning streak came from their games on November 12th and 14th, when they dispatched the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Palmieri will skate against his former team for the first time tonight, and he has been doing quite well for himself since he moved back home. His 13 goals have him tied with Adam Henrique for the team lead, and his 25 points are the second most out of any Devil behind Mike Cammalleri. Both numbers are currently better than those of any given Duck. Travis Zajac, who's one of Palmieri's better playmakers, has been on the IR since New Jersey's December 3rd tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes, but he has been aiming for a return this weekend.
In their latest recap linked above, John Fischer from All About the Jersey included a link to an article on hockey-graphs.com that gives an in-depth analysis to the Devils' strengths and weaknesses. Protip for the Ducks: play the left side of the ice.
Two hours before face off we'll have the game thread up, featuring the full Stat Pack, likely with expected lines, and of course your Numbers For Nerds.