With the prospects of a five-game in ten-day road trip staring them in the face, and Los Angeles beginning to pull away in the Pacific Division while San Jose inches ever closer, the Anaheim Ducks needed a strong effort on Friday night at Honda Center against the Boston Bruins.
They got just that in stifling one of the best road teams in the league, snapping a seven-game point streak for the Bruins with a complete effort despite still lacking Sami Vatanen on the back end and Nate Thompson on the fourth line. A reconfiguration of the lineup did the trick to get offense, and it came early. Presenting the Best and Worst of the Ducks 4-0 win over Boston:
Best: A Quick One-Two, Sustained
In recent games Anaheim had opened the scoring, but despite the initial edge were unable to see the results through. Ryan Getzlaf's blast a minute in against Washington ended up being the only goal Anaheim scored in the game, and Jamie McGinn's first period tally against New York after Corey Perry created a turnover proved the same. In the outings that the Ducks have dropped of late, they haven't been able to build on that initial lead, or at the very least have a response when leveled up. That changed against Boston.
McGinn looked right at home in front of the net on a line with Getzlaf and Perry (more on that later), and to get the second a matter of 1:16 later was a huge early boost for the team. Perhaps it's not coincidental that in both the games the Ducks won on the home stand, the third line had an important scoring role- in this case Ryan Kesler there to pick up the loose change from Andrew Cogliano's rush shot. The offense was of course bound to cool somewhat from the blistering pace they put the puck in the net during the franchise record run of form, but a key for the team moving forward will be getting consistent scoring from folks not named 'Getzlaf' or 'Perry'.
Worst: Little Bit Of Let Up In Second Period
Admittedly, not as bad as second periods have been at other points during the season, but Boston had the better of play for the majority of it. Outshooting the Ducks by six and out-attempting them at five-on-five by five, it seemed at times as if the Ducks were content to sit back on their two goal lead and just absorb. Anaheim did a good job of limiting the scoring chances, while at the same time creating their own at the other end, Boston out-chancing by a 12-10 margin at even strength and each team generating four high-danger chances. There have been much worse middle frames from Anaheim this season, but this game should serve as a gentle reminder not to sink too far back into those old habits.
Best: Andersen Presses The Issue
Life has a funny way of evening things out, doesn't it? John Gibson wasn't afforded his opportunity to put together and All Star-caliber first half of the season until Frederik Andersen got sick, and now with Gibson missing a scheduled start due to an illness on Thursday, Freddie had an absolute statement-making kind of game.
The 15-1-2 record since the new year has rightfully been one of the consistent talking points about Andersen's game, and it hasn't just been that he's been beneficiary of Anaheim scoring at an elevated rate during this current stretch. Since the All Star break at the end of January, Andersen has posted a .935 save percentage while picking up both of his shutouts over a 15 game stretch. It's a callback to the form he showed at the beginning of the season, where he was also stopping shots at a .935 SV% clip over his first ten games and only had three wins to show for it thanks to the Ducks scoring troubles.
For what it's worth, Gibson's save percentage post ASG is .910 in his ten appearances, though if you remove his blistering at Pittsburgh, it bounces up to a .924 SV%. Who's ready for another round of 'Which Goalie Starts In The Playoffs'?
Best: Early Returns On Restructured Top Six
The chemistry Getzlaf showed with David Perron since his arrival has been undeniable, but it's worth remembering that Perron has a reputation for being a bit of a streaky scorer. After a four-game stretch where he failed to register on the scoresheet (including the New Jersey game), in which Anaheim lost three of four and scored three times total in the losses, it's understandable why head coach Bruce Boudreau wanted to shake things up. The good thing is, it appears the talent on the top six is plenty malleable, perhaps moreso than any grouping Anaheim has had during the Boudreau era.
The logic behind McGinn with a reunited Twins is easy to see: Getzlaf and Perry have thrived with a big, burly forward that can win board battles and gets to the front of the net- see Maroon, Patrick. McGinn has a bit more of a finishing touch, and more of a proven track record in the league, so it makes sense that this trio would click, and they immediately did. Shuffling Perron down to skate with Rickard Rakell and Brandon Pirri on the second line is equally enticing. Rakell can continue to work his play-making magic, with career-highs already in goals and points, and assists surely coming, while having both a winger that gets to the inside in Perron, and a quicker shooter in Pirri he can work with on the rush and finding open spots in the offensive zone. Both reconfigured lines found the scoreboard.
3) Cam Fowler
Fowler just looks more comfortable playing with Simon Despres as his defense partner, with the duo playing top line minutes for the game. A theory as to why that may be: Despres' first instincts seem to be defense-first. Sure, there will be the odd time that he steps up to hold the puck in at the line (and there was an instance where he did that in the second that Fowler hustled back and traded lanes to moot out), but he very rarely moves further down the boards to join the offense. It makes for an easier to read style, giving Fowler a better sense of when to join the play and when to drop back. The only Bruin trio that generated a major attempts advantage against him was Eriksson-Krejci-Pastrnak; a solid evening when having his number called most of any player on the Ducks.
2) Hampus Lindholm
The return of Kevin Bieksa to the lineup (who skated with the Zdeno Chara-wrangling Clayton Stoner) allowed Lindholm to return to his regular running mate on the backend this season in Josh Manson, and the duo did their usual bit of having the best five-on-five shot attempt differential amongst the defense corps. While it doesn't look like he'll set a career high in points this season, Lindholm has set a new mark for goals, and his tally was perhaps the biggest of the game for Anaheim. Smart read to see that Perry was alone in the slot and there still was a lane, allowing Getzlaf to perfectly use Perry as a decoy and set up Hampus for the five-hole snapper just 58 seconds into the third to effectively salt the game. He also had the secondary helper on Anaheim's final tally.
A 38-save shutout for his second no-no of the year, and the tenth time this year he's made more than 30 saves in a game. Fredo's 6-3-1 in those heavier workload games. Not bad for a start that wasn't originally scheduled as his.