The Anaheim Ducks are in seesaw mode. First up, then down, then up, then down.
Sunday’s 6-5 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers, while exciting, weighs the seesaw down.
Consider what the Ducks have done in February — Anaheim started the month by gaining three out of a possible eight points through Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Buffalo. Of those four teams, only Toronto will be playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It appeared the Ducks were making their annual late charge to the playoffs with a four-game winning streak that included victories over Minnesota (playoff contender), Dallas (playoff contender) and Vegas (division leader).
Anaheim was primed to continue its hot stretch over the weekend with games against lowly Arizona and Edmonton—two teams that won’t even sniff the postseason. Instead, the Ducks laid an egg (pun intended) against the Coyotes and needed a minor miracle to salvage a point against the Oilers.
Sure, it was exciting for Rickard Rakell to score twice in the final 21 seconds to force overtime while simultaneously capturing his first career hat trick. And yes, it’s always fun when Ryan Getzlaf has four-point nights.
But the Ducks should’ve never been in such a desperate situation. The Oilers have been, arguably, the most disappointing team in the NHL this season and have nothing to play for other than another Art Ross Trophy for Connor McDavid.
The Comeback on Katella Part II was fun while it lasted, but even a W against Edmonton Sunday can’t hide the fact that the Ducks have simply not been consistent enough to make a deep run this season.
Ricky Rak Hat Attack: With his performance against the Oilers, it’s hard to believe that Rakell entered that game with an eight-game goal-less drought. The Ducks’ leading goal scorer hadn’t found the back of the net since Feb. 6 against Buffalo, but he broke out in a big way. Rakell scored his first of the night 1:46 into the contest and tallied twice more in the last 21 seconds to tie the game 5-5. Remember, it was Rakell that scored the game-tying goal with 15 seconds left that forced overtime against Edmonton in Game 5 last season after the Ducks trailed that game 3-0. Despite his dry spell, Rakell is back on pace to score over 30 goals for the second straight year. With a little good fortune, he can even top his career high of 33.
Getzy shines: Getzlaf’s four-point game was the 19th of his career. That’s more than John Tavares (10 games), Steven Stamkos (10 games), Patrick Kane (8 games), Jonathan Toews (8 games), and Anze Kopitar (6 games), among many others.
(Of note: Sidney Crosby has 31 four-point games in his career. He’s very good at hockey.)
Finally: Kevin Bieksa’s ice time dipped to 14:20, which is his third-lowest total for a game this season. Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin have rotated nights in the press box over the last couple weeks after Marcus Pettersson was called up.
Gibby Time?: Ryan Miller has performed admirably when called upon this year, but the Ducks won’t reach their ceiling without John Gibson in net. Gibson was hurt during the second period of the Ducks’ 2-0 win over Vegas on Feb. 19, but it appears he may be ready to return for Friday’s game against Columbus.
Randy Carlyle says John Gibson will skate this week and the expectation is he’ll be available to play when the Ducks return Friday. Gibson’s missed past three games with LBI #NHLDucks— Mike Coppinger (@MikeCoppinger) February 26, 2018
It’s time to talk about Ryan Kesler: We all know Kesler is not 100 percent. Elliotte Friedman included a little snippet in “31 Thoughts” on Feb. 7 about how it’s clear to opponents that Kesler is still affected by his offseason surgery. Ten days later, Kesler was scratched against the Minnesota Wild.
If Kesler is hurting, the Ducks need to do a better job of protecting their investment than they have so far this season. He’s averaging over 18 minutes a night and Randy Carlyle still utilizes him as a shutdown center.
Against quality players like the Oilers’ Connor McDavid, Kesler is a liability. McDavid had three assists against the Ducks Sunday, but his night could’ve been much more. McDavid had 10 shot attempts and seven were on goal.
It’s tough enough for a player like Kesler, who isn’t exactly fleet of foot, to keep up with McDavid at 5-on-5. But 3-on-3 was a total mismatch and McDavid had a handful of great chances where he should’ve ended the game before it went to the shootout. If Carlyle is so concerned with matching up in 3-on-3 (which seems misguided since it’s such a free-for-all anyway), why not throw Andrew Cogliano out there to shadow McDavid? At least Cogliano can keep up and be in position to make a play.
This graphic from corsica.hockey displays individual match-ups, with red boxes favoring the Oilers while blue boxes favor the Ducks. Line up Kesler and McDavid, and you’ll see a box redder than Rudolph’s nose.
Anaheim is in a tough spot because they needs wins and Kesler is a better option that those who would replace him (Derek Grant took his spot with Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg for the Minnesota game), but there’s the next four years of Kesler’s deal to think about too.
3 — Ryan Getzlaf: The captain’s night could’ve been better if his dangerous chance in overtime caught twine instead of the right post. Alas, four points is four points.
2 — Rickard Rakell: First hat trick of his career. And probably not the last.
1 — Connor McDavid: A three-point night easily could’ve been five. His goal in the shootout clinched an Edmonton win, but he was the most dangerous player on the ice during regulation and overtime.