The final game before the NHL's three-day holiday break saw the Anaheim Ducks pay a visit to Madison Square Garden against a similarly scuffling New York Rangers team. A win would go a long way towards helping to stabilize and turn things around for either side before the time off. So who's gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Sidney Crosby outscored Alex pucking Ovechkin in 2010? Presenting the Best and Worst of the Ducks at the Rangers:
Worst: The Clean, Cool Chill Of The Holiday Air... A Team Awful At Three-On-Three Overtime
The struggles of the Ducks in the new overtime format are no better exemplified than their opening spell of possession with the puck- Ryan Kesler won the face off, Sami Vatanen carried through the neutral zone and proceeded to chip the puck behind the net. At three-on-three the name of the game is possession, and a mere near 30 seconds after Anaheim acquired it to start the session, they gave it away for Henrik Lundqvist to tee up the Ranger attack that never gave it back.
Of course Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard were then able to create some clean looks, and with Cam Fowler forced to take a penalty on a clean breakaway from the blue line created by a bad change, it was only a matter of time before the game-winning power play score hit the the twine. The Ducks are now 0-5 in games that end in the three-man extra session; maybe they should take up the Vancouver Canucks tactic and play for the shootout. Could it be any worse than how things have gone so far?
Best: Is The First Line On Fire? No, Those Are The Goal Lights
Even if the Ducks are a painfully one-line team with Rickard Rakell up top with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, at least it resulted in both of the goals for the game. Both goals for Anaheim were tremendous shots, with Perry's particularly impressive picking the top corner without getting a clean look at the net. Less than 25% of the Ducks' attempts for the night were from the high danger area, but of those nine high danger chances the top line accounted for five of them.
Worst: I Hope You Kids See What A Silly Waste Of Resources That Was
For a team that's scored a league-low 62 goals (18 less than 29th place Carolina), and with all the talk of Anaheim pivoting to being a more defense-focused team, it's particularly rough when unable to take advantage of scoring the first goal. After beating New Jersey following the first lamp-lighting of the game, the Ducks proceeded to lose and drop in overtime the final two games of the trip after opening the scoring. It's a razor thin margin the team has to walk when struggling this mightily (whatever the reason) to score goals, so not taking advantage of early momentum and straight giving away two goals off of turnovers is a bad, bad spot to be in.
Best: We're Gonna Press On
Amidst some confusing lineup decisions (Mike Santorelli on the second line? Jakob Silfverberg dropped to fourth? Not having a set second power play line?), Anaheim was able to at least salvage a point from the game and enters the break five points back of the final Pacific playoff spot with three games in-hand on Vancouver. Patrick Maroon's early fight against Tanner Glass was the perfect 'look for energy' fight because it wasn't a top line center removing themselves from the game for five minutes, and actually sparked the team after not generating much of anything in the opening 5:35.
The Ducks ended up out-chancing New York 18-15, and 9-6 from the high danger area for the game, with a 13-10 and 6-4 edge at even strength. Again though, the lack of ability to maintain a solid net front presence to get to rebounds off the numerous shots from the perimeter and regularly force Lundqvist to make top-quality saves speak to the team's issues in the offensive zone all season. The underlying numbers are encouraging, particularly how well chances against were limited- if ANY of the non-first line players can start scoring with any regularity, the team is well positioned to make a run in the new year thanks to the division they're in.
How big does that three game run of road games at Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver look after December 27 home date against Philadelphia look? Could end up being a defining stretch for how the rest of the season goes.
3) Rickard Rakell
Rakell's seven goals and eight assists in 30 games has been one of the lone offensive bright spots for Anaheim this season, one of the few younger players who has stepped up and carried over some of their production momentum from last postseason. His forecheck helped start the play that saw Marc Staal pass in to Dominic Moore's feet, pinballing to Perry in the slot for the first goal, and the late game-tying goal against the run of play is something that the Ducks have had far too little of this season. For an Anaheim side which has struggled with resiliency this season, Ricky showed it late with the goal to at least make it three of a possible eight points from the road trip.
2) Mats Zuccarello
First it was the forecheck that created Jiri Sekac's turnover leading to the second Ranger goal of the game, then it was scoring the game-winning goal on the power play in overtime. He finished third amongst New York forwards with a +4 shot attempt differential for the whole of the game.
1) Derick Brassard
The Prime Ticket broadcast made sure to reference it plenty, but 10 goals and two assists in his last 12 games against Anaheim is worthy of another mention here. For whatever reason, Brassard loves playing against the Ducks, and scored both of the regulation Ranger goals. Make it three games in a row as a Blueshirt that he's lit the lamp against Anaheim.