The Anaheim Ducks are currently holding the 3rd place spot in the Pacific Division, but that’s after changing position in the NHL standings three times throughout the course of a day when they did not even play a game. The win for the Colorado Avalanche pushed them above Anaheim, then a win for St. Louis pushed Anaheim out of the playoff picture, but finally, a regulation loss from the Los Angeles Kings allowed Anaheim to hold the tiebreaker for the 3rd place position in the Pacific.
All that being said, the Ducks are seeing firsthand that they cannot rely on the teams around them to lose, and that their only sure way to punch a ticket to the postseason is by winning the games on their schedule. They are a bit lucky with the scheduling for this game against the Edmonton Oilers, as the Oilers just played the Los Angeles Kings yesterday and dealt them a 3-2 loss in regulation (thank you Connor McDavid).
Now it will be the Ducks’ turn to try to find ways to keep McDavid from lighting up the scoresheet, as these two points have become crucial once again. The Ducks are 4-0-1 in their last five games, and that still was not enough to comfortably seat them in a playoff position. The wins need to keep coming, and the team needs to continue to find ways to win hockey games, especially against the teams that are not currently in the playoff picture.
The Oilers have been finding a groove recently, as they are 7-2-1 in their last ten contests. They are showing a lot more signs of the Edmonton team that many thought they would be coming into this season, before they surprised everyone by being mediocre once again. I don’t expect a team with Connor McDavid at the helm to struggle year in and year out, and I am fairly confident that the Pacific Division will have to deal with a much hungrier Oilers team next season. But that’s a conversation for another day.
The task at hand remains for the Ducks to get the two points and take full advantage of the game in hand that they now hold over Los Angeles. With games against Dallas, Minnesota, and Los Angeles coming up, the Ducks need to make sure they can build as much of a cushion as possible in the event that any of those games go poorly.
All Eyes On Me
The Ducks have been finding ways to win games and, in the case of the Winnipeg game, force overtime in games when they have seemed to be severely outplayed. The main catalyst for these points all season long has been John Gibson, and I will be looking to him to once again help the Ducks to secure a much-needed pair of points in Alberta on Sunday evening.
Gibson has been absolutely relentless in making ridiculous saves and shutting down offenses left and right all season long. While it may not be sustainable, the Ducks need it now more than ever if they want to be competing for the Stanley Cup. With an Oilers team playing in the second half of back-to-backs, I would like to see the Ducks offense push the pace and keep the Oilers locked in to their own zone for a majority of the hockey game.
However, Randy Carlyle still exists and is still employed by the Anaheim Ducks.
Thus, John Gibson will need to be ready in the event that he needs to make 40+ saves in order for the Ducks to get the two points.
Keys to the Game
1. Contain Connor McDavid - McDavid scored twice against the Kings en route to their 3-2 victory. Long story short for Anaheim; if they fail to contain McDavid effectively, they’re going to be picking a lot of pucks out of the back of their net.
2. Special Teams - The Edmonton Oilers have Connor McDavid, but still somehow have the league’s worst power play. I am not entirely sure how that’s reality, but it is. Also, the Oilers sport only the 29th-ranked penalty kill. I would not be opposed to the Ducks turning this game into a more physical affair, as it would more than likely benefit Anaheim in a special teams battle.
3. John Gibson - Please see the above section or read here about why John Gibson is more or less the only hope the Ducks have to reach the postseason.