Remember earlier this season when folks were commenting about the Anaheim Ducks needing to tank the season, that it was approaching the point where they 'couldn't get out from under the numbers'?
A scorchingly hot run since December has long since silenced those early chicken littles, with the now much-spoken of 22-4-2 run since Christmas, and now a current eight-game winning streak. It was another impressive result against the Los Angeles Kings last night, taking down the Pacific Division leaders for the second time in a 12-1-1 month of February that has been the best in franchise history. Taking advantage of an opponent playing its third game in four nights, here is the Best and Worst of the orange alternate-clad Ducks win:
Best: Corey Perry Laughs At Royalty
It says a lot that Perry is the fourth-highest scoring player in Anaheim franchise history against the rivals from up the I-5, with 25 goals (second-most behind Teemu Selanne's 39, and passing Paul Kariya's 24 in the game) and 22 assists against the Angelenos in 65 regular season and playoff appearances. He was engaged from the very early stages of the game, getting to the crease and being pulled on top of Jonathan Quick by Alec Martinez in a post-whistle scrum, leading to this tremendous image. Despite taking a penalty, it drew an early power play and set the tone for the game.
While all three of his goals were classic 'Perry goals', each had their own unique aspects that show his wide range of skill. The ability to pick the top corner from in close on the initial power play goal, his hands and body control in corralling the shot of the glass at the side of the net to score his second, the jam to power the rebound home for the hat trick, all were tremendous examples of why Perry has consistently been one of the best scorers in the league.
Worst: Los Angeles Tries To Play Anaheim's Game vs Gibson
After the usual Anaheim opening volleys on Quick's crease, it was interesting to see Los Angeles attempt to respond in kind against John Gibson. Not surprising that the first player to try and 'send a message' was Milan Lucic, and not even in a remotely sneaky way. Lucic hasn't had much in the way of a positive impact on the series from the LA point of view, with just one assist and eight penalty minutes in three games, and also suffered the indignity of his apparent third period power play goal being wiped away (more on that later) by an offside.
Anaheim usually tries to get in Quick's face early on when these teams get together. Los Angeles normally doesn't, which made the pair of attempted Gibson-buzzing's all the more interesting. For all of the Ducks success in recent regular seasons against the Kings, more often than not it had been seemingly against the run of play with LA able to dictate the game style. Perhaps this, coupled with Darryl Sutter decided to play some reindeer games with his game-opening line of Anze Kopitar-Vincent Lecavalier-Jeff Carter, are signs that Anaheim is beginning to gain the upper hand in this matchup. Then again, could just be some hi-jinx to try and spark a tired team.
Best: Power Surge From Special Teams
For as much as there have been complaints about the penalty kill (and deservedly so, LA had one and very nearly two in their four attempts), when the power play is as unfathomably hot as it's been, it does well to paper those concerns over for the time being. Anaheim's power play has improved to fourth-best in the league with their tremendous run of form, sitting at 22.3% with five players scoring four or more goals on the man advantage.
It's certainly due to cool off, but the same could've been said about a penalty kill that at times was up over 90%, but now is tied for second-best in the league at 86.6%. Special teams are huge for playoff success, and if Anaheim can sustain both as top ten units moving forward they will be in good shape. Scotty Bowman used to have a theory that it you add together a team's power play and penalty kill success rates, and it's over 100 a team is in good shape. Anaheim's currently sits at 108.9- they're in pretty good shape.
Worst: So, We're Still Talking About The Challenge Process, Eh?
Nearly ten minutes to determine that Kopitar was offside on the would've-been third period power play goal, complete with the usual kvetching about the size of the tablet the officials use to make the call. It was a bit surprising to see that small screen and the available camera angles were enough to give the officials certainty needed to overturn the call.
Still, that this is such a regular point of conversation is stupid. It's been announced that the league will look at the process at the general manager meetings- do it, and fix it, please. More camera angles, and get the league office in Toronto involved.
Best: New Guys Getting Acquainted In The Rivalry
The addition of David Perron has been as big a part of the Ducks kicking in to high gear offensively, with the team 15-2-1 since his late night acquisition in January after Anaheim's win over Dallas. Seeing him put up two goals and two assists in his two games against Los Angeles, paired with how Ryan Getzlaf's production as taken off since Perron joined the team (six goals, 18 assists, points in 16 of 18 games and current 11-game streak), it's been a welcome addition. Truly though, is a new Duck really a Duck until they do something that annoys Quick/the Kings? Look at how happy Perron and Perry were after seeing Quick take a hack at #57 that lead to coincidental minors.
Ryan Garbutt has also shown nicely against the Angelenos, with a goal to his credit and winning puck battles. There also was a glimpse, ever so slight, of the player that Anaheim fans remember from his time in Dallas, with a mid-third period crease crash that was close enough to just say "hello." Plus, there was the ever present Kevin Bieksa going nose-to-nose when there were post-play scrums. Facing a team as big and physical as Los Angeles, it's nice to see how well the new guys have taken to it.
3) Ryan Garbutt
So, who's ready to walk back their initial tantrums and accept Garbutt as the valuable addition he's been for the Ducks? From the second period on he took shifts with the top line, and as such finishing tied for the best even strength shot attempts differential (+9) for the game. Perhaps even more impressive was that he did so despite finishing tied with Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson for the team lead (five) in five-on-five shifts starting in the defensive zone. He won the shot attempts battle against all but four Kings (finishing even with two), and in around three minutes only allowed one more shot attempt by Tyler Toffoli and Carter.
2) Sami Vatanen
Another pair of assists, moving Vatanen into a tie with Rickard Rakell for third most points scored on the team with 34. His use of open ice in the high slot to draw the attention of the LA defense and create a lane for Perry to to get to the net and score was just the latest example just how valuable he is to create space on the man advantage.
1) Corey Perry
He got to sit on Quick's face, scored a hat trick, and assisted on Perron's knock out goal. Corey Perry against the Kings is awesome.