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Ducks @ Maple Leafs MORNING THOUGHTS: Defensive struggles continue

Shutdown unit has rough night in Toronto

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Now that it’s February, each point in the standings has become more and more precious. And while the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the teams expected to challenge in the Eastern Conference, the Anaheim Ducks’ 7-4 loss Monday was a winnable game that slipped away because of a suddenly leaky defense.

While the usual suspects had rough nights — Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin were a combined -5 — it was the Ducks’ shutdown line with the most disappointing outing. The trio of Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg was -9. It continues to be indefensible for Anaheim to roll with Beauchemin and Bieksa on two of its three defensive pairs, but the shutdown unit has been uneven since Kesler returned on Dec. 27. Their play even prompted Ducks coach Randy Carlyle to experiment with Silfverberg on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, but that trial was short-lived. If the Ducks are to make a run toward the postseason, the line of Cogliano, Kesler and Silfverberg needs to return to its previous form.

The Ducks finished with 44 shots on goal but they allowed 40. Against any of the high-scoring teams in the NHL — Toronto ranks seventh in the league in goals per game — Anaheim cannot afford to trade chances.


Corey Perry: Perry has taken his lumps over the last two seasons, but perhaps his recent demotion to the fourth line and return to the top line has sparked a fire under the Ducks’ former 50-goal scorer. The 32-year-old has seven points in his last six games and against Toronto secured his first four-assist game since Oct. 31, 2008 (a 5-4 shootout loss to Vancouver). To be fair, one of his assists came after he whiffed at a wide-open net but as they say, “A point is a point!” You know Perry is in a good place when he’s trying moves like this:

Rickard Rakell: Sensing a theme? The top unit of Perry, Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf was dominant against the Maple Leafs Monday. Rakell finished with two goals and an assist, and his first of the night secured another 20-goal season. Rakell, who was touted as a defensive-minded center in his draft year, has continued to come into his own as the Ducks’ top goal-scoring threat. In the 24 games since Getzlaf’s return from injury, Rakell has 13 goals and 12 assists — that’s a pace of 44 goals and 85 points over a full season. With 28 games remaining, Rakell has a great chance to reach 30 goals for the second straight year.


Toronto woes: Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena was always considered the Ducks’ house of horrors, but visits to Toronto haven’t been much friendlier. Anaheim is 4-14-4-1 (third number is ties; remember when the NHL had those?) all time in Toronto after Monday’s loss. The Ducks also slip to 3-8-0-1 in Air Canada Center and have been outscored in that building 49-30. Really, Anaheim has struggled against the Maple Leafs in any venue — excluding the three losses in three games against the Vegas Golden Knights, Anaheim’s head-to-head points percentage against Toronto (.366) is the worst among all active teams in the NHL. Fortunately for the Ducks, they only play Toronto twice a year.

Miller Time?: Ryan Miller was brought to Anaheim to mentor starter John Gibson and serve as a security blanket in case the latter suffered an injury. For much of the season Miller has been reliable, but his last two outings have been terrible. He allowed three goals on seven shots Saturday in Montreal, and followed that with six goals against on 39 shots versus the Maple Leafs. Gibson, who left early Jan. 30 against the Bruins with a lower-body injury, was back on the ice for the morning skate Monday so his ailment doesn’t appear long-term. Still, the Ducks certainly hope Miller’s sudden struggles are a only blip on the radar.

Not so special teams: Thanks to a run where the Ducks are only 8-for-14 on the penalty kill over their last three games, Anaheim has slipped to 15th in the NHL when down a man. The Ducks have been among the best on the penalty kill the last two seasons, finishing fourth last year and first in 2015-16. For the team that leads the league in penalties taken, any slip by the penalty kill is a disturbing trend. Fortunately, the power play has scored in three of the last four games.

Three Stars of the Game

3: Corey Perry — It’s a small sample size, but Perry has been up to his old tricks in recent games. The Ducks need that to continue.

2: Masks — After seeing Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen take a wayward skate to the helmet Monday, it remains hard to believe that netminders once patrolled the crease without any facial protection. Andersen fell to the ice and had to be removed for backup Curtis McElhinney, though Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was optimistic about Andersen’s status after the game. It was a scary sequence for the former Duck Andersen, who has a history of concussions. Here was the play:

1: Auston Matthews/William Nylander Since the Ducks only play Toronto twice a year (barring a meeting in the Stanley Cup Final), Anaheim fans rarely catch a glimpse of two of the NHL’s rising stars. The duo punished the Ducks for two goals apiece Monday.

The Ducks cap off their five-game road trip today when they take on the Buffalo Sabres at 4 p.m. PST.