Thursday, January 6th, 7:00 PM PST
TV: CBC, SN, Prime, NHL.TV
Radio: AM 830
Your Enemy: Matchsticks and Gasoline
It feels like just last week that the Ducks started another 15-year-long winning drought for the Calgary Flames, in Anaheim. Yet here we are in 2018, with zero home games played this calendar year, and the Ducks are undefeated in regulation. What fortune smiles upon them, that they get to continue this unbeaten streak by playing a team from Alberta (secret squirrel NHL code for regulation worthy opposition).
The Ducks come into this one after a pretty poor practice game in Edmonton, where they spotted the opposition a one period lead before starting to play; an interesting tactic by renowned super-coach Carlyle that will no doubt pay many dividends down the road.
Nonetheless, the one period start was a little too much for the Ducks to make up, and their offence could not provide enough support to get John Gibson what would have been a well earned win. Still worth noting that the same Ducks offence is averaging 3 goals per game since the calendar year flipped - a near enough half a goal per game difference (for the better) than their season average. More noteworthy, however, is that the defence has given up only 1 goal in 7 periods of hockey.
However, the Ducks shouldn't come into this one thinking its a complete training run. The Flames have won their last two games, both against perceived superior opposition (Chicago Blackhawks & LA Kings) who took them too lightly. Those teams both gave up 4 goals each, and the Anaheim defence may have its hands full. Despite allowing so few goals this calendar year, the Ducks defence has been on the wrong side of the ledger regarding corsi attempts (87-99) and scoring chances (40-49). In fact, John Gibson has faced the 4th most shots-against of any goaltender in the league thus far, having fought with 1046 shots already this season. Should the Ducks continue that type of run, it would only take an off night from the Ducks tender for the Flames to sneak a couple through early and put the pressure on the Ducks only scoring threat (obviously this team wins when Ryan Getzlaf does Ryan Getzlaf things) to even the ledger.
Perhaps most importantly, the Flames are 3only points behind the Ducks with 2 games in hand, and having the tie breaker. This game, while mid season, may have greater repercussions than a mere two points. Should the Ducks fall here, they will only make their path to another consecutive playoff berth all the more difficult.
All Eyes on Me
My eyes will be furiously searching for Ryan Kesler’s missing game. He hasn’t played many games this season, however he has played them at mid-season form.... if last season’s mid-season form is anything to go by. Admittedly he did get a little stick on a great deflection against the Oilers, on what would be the Ducks only tally for the game. However outside of that he’s has been worse than invisible. He has of course come from a substantial time on the bench, after major surgery which would impact absolutely anyone. However, I cant help but feel that he has come back prematurely, given he’s oft been out of position and moving somewhat slower than anticipated.
Despite slightly reduced minutes, Kesler has been utterly carted at even strength, in particular over the past two games, in which he has given more shots on net and scoring chances than any other forward on the team. In fact in the 5 games since his return, he has only been on the positive side of the ledger for corsi, scoring chances and high danger scoring chances, once (versus Arizona).
The Ducks have some time before they need Kesler to be the player so many fans imagine him to be. But tonight would be a very good start given that the result from this game could be felt come seasons end. If he is to be centring a shutdown line, he absolutely needs to start shutting down the opposition. The offence can wait, but they need him to be in genuine Selke candidate form. The sooner the better.
Keys to the Game
- Play 60 minutes of hockey. The Ducks have had a disturbing trend of fading out for periods at a time. Most often it’s the second period, last game it was the first. Someone needs to fire these guys up, have them in peak condition, and have them ready to compete from the opening whistle through to their victory lap at games end.
- Give the captain some scoring support. When Getzlaf goes the Ducks go. Which since his return from injury has been often and well. He’s a superstar and probably the best pivot (maybe player) the Ducks will ever have. However this team is considered deep up front with the relatively recent acquisition of Adam Henrique and the return of Kesler. They need to take the scoring burden off Getzlaf.
- Stem the bleeding. Admittedly much of the defensive burden is brought about by a reliance on a system that actively encourages a combination of shots from the half wall, from high, and from between the dots. The plans does largely work around giving the tender plenty of opportunity to see the puck, and is countered by the attitude that if they score one, we’ll just get another one. Those that watched the finals series last year will no doubt remember the many many chances (and goals) Sean Monahan was able to tee off on from right between the dots and all alone. Gibson is absolutely good enough to stop all these chances, as he’s much improved this season. However, it would be nice to reduce his workload as the season grows long, given he’s on track to pass his season high shots against total in ~12 more games (roughly 8 games quicker than last year).