The 16-point game has been closed with 18 games remaining, and now the Anaheim Ducks find themselves atop the Pacific Division after picking up their third straight win over the Los Angeles Kings, 3-2 on Saturday afternoon at STAPLES Center.
And just like that, the historic run of form from the Fowl continues to turn heads around the league, and now has turned the heads of everyone in the division from looking in the rearview to now chasing. Presenting the Best and Worst of the Ducks at Los Angeles:
Best: A New Franchise Record Winning Streak
While it could be argued that this was one of the uglier games that Anaheim has been able to earn a result from in the new Anaheim-best 11th straight wins, it harkened back to the attitude change that began with the defensive focus in late December. Though the final attempt numbers paint the picture of Angeleno dominance, it was more a matter of their being able to sustain pressure after each of the six power play chances they were able to draw for the game. Plus, for all those attempts, LA only put five more shots actually on goal with the teams at full strength.
Even at that though, the teams ended level at 18 scoring chances apiece while at five-on-five, and Anaheim allowed three of the Kings' nine even strength high danger chances in the third period. It felt less like the 'hold on to your loved ones and pray' type games that seemed to mark the early years under head coach Bruce Boudreau, and more of the recent games where the Ducks have played them much more evenly.
Worst: Losing The Sixth Defenseman In The Opening MInutes
Perhaps the response to the nonsense started by Kyle Clifford after Anaheim had pretty well controlled the opening seven minutes or so action was what opened the door for the officiating standard that was employed the rest of the game. While losing Kevin Bieksa for the remainder of the game, after he'd played just 2:32, is probably the preferable choice to having Rickard Rakell get the boot, it wasn't a good tradeoff for the Ducks. Andy Andreoff is not an impact player for LA, and definitely a tradeoff that the Kings would be happy to make, dropping a lower line winger for one of Anaheim's top minute defenders.
It put the backend at a disadvantage for the remainder of the game, and foisted a larger role on Josh Manson. Manson ended up leading the team with 24:07 of ice time, and despite playing a solid game (including 3:46 of shorthanded time) was visibly less impactful as the game went along. With the Ducks largely just trying to slow things down through the neutral zone in the third period, not having as full-winded of a defense amplified some of the issues moving the puck out of the defensive end and Anaheim not generating much push-back against the LA chip and chase.
But Still, BEST: FIGHT RICKY FIGHT
Sure, Rakell's mitts are best used taking shots like the game winning goal that deflected in off Jakob Silfverberg on the power play, but how great was it seeing just how "undercover tough" the Ducks' second line center is, as termed postgame by Frederik Andersen?
Kris Versteeg is no heavyweight, but he also has an established track record of a scrapper in the NHL. That Rakell not only held his own, but ended up winning was big for a couple reasons. Not only does it play well in the Anaheim locker room, standing up for your teammates, but it also set up Los Angeles so they were essentially without a fourth line for the remainder of the game after the first period. Clifford and Tanner Pearson each finished with less than 10 minutes of ice time. Plus, there's something also on a visceral level about fighting and establishing your fighting bona fides against a two-time Stanley Cup champion who LA brought in for experienced depth.
Worst: Penalty Disparity
Nobody likes being 'that guy/gal', harping on the six to two power play advantage Los Angeles was afforded, particularly when the balance of what was an infraction at one end and what one was at the other appeared to be unequal.
Still, that Anaheim was able to not only continue their surgical precision with their power play, as well as do well enough on the penalty kill that the special teams scores washed out despite that imbalance? Has to be viewed as a success. Not to mention, these have been the kinds of situations in the past where Ryan Getzlaf mentally takes himself out of the game by becoming so singularly-focused on the officials, and the team gets wound up and loses sight of the task at hand. That didn't happen here, and Getzlaf went on the lead all forwards with 23:09 of ice time, and see the most time on the squad shorthanded at 5:32.
3) Jakob Silfverberg
When as a matchup forward you finish with a -2 even strength shot attempt differential, especially seeing significant time against the opponent's top forwards in Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic, and winning the other times iced against Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli, it's a job well done. All the more so when helping create the turnover and setting up Ryan Kesler for the only five-on-five score of the game, as well as going outside the 'expect role' on the power play and setting the screen that created the game-winning goal. Silfverberg was the lone multi-point scorer for Anaheim, and did it in his primarily defensive role.
2) Frederik Andersen
Andersen was under siege at times, facing the six shorthanded situations and stopping nine of the 11 shots he faced on the PK. Then there were the 23 even strength stops, and with the exception of a couple scrambling moments, was every bit the composed goalie who is now 5-0-1 against Los Angeles. His seven-game winning streak is impressive, but almost more so is the fact that he hasn't lost in regulation since before Christmas.
1) Rickard Rakell
Tonight we were introduced to Rocky Rakell, and saw another star-making step in what has been an increasingly impressive breakout season for the 23-year old to-be.