The Ducks come screaming into this one, after having scored 10 goals over their past two games. A trend they’ll very likely wish to continue, versus the high scoring Washington Capitals, given that only 5 of the Ducks remaining 15 games are against non-playoff bound teams. This game also marks the 67th of the season for the Ducks and, perhaps more notably, the last at home before heading off on a mini-road trip to face two Western Conference (probable) finalists. This Capitals game is also the second to last Eastern Conference team the Ducks will play this season, with the Devils on the 18th (of March) closing the chapter on the lesser conference.
The Ducks post-trade deadline scoring has come from all over the line-up, with the top line leading the way. Rickard Rakell has recorded 3 points, captain Ryan Getzlaf has 3 assists (in the one game he played), and perhaps most importantly Corey Perry is fresh off a 2-goal outing. Both of his goals coming against whatever it is that the Chicago Blackhawks consider defence these days, yet both reminiscent of the days of yore. Even the second line has jumped into the action, with Andrew Cogliano collecting 3 points, and Jakob Silfverberg lighting the lamp for the second and third time in 15 games. The next goal for Silfverberg will put him in sole ownership of the 10th, on the highest Ducks-Career goal scorers list. Speaking of the scoring records, fans should also be on the lookout for Silfverberg to reach 200 career points. With only 2 more to go, he could reach that milestone at any time before seasons end, including tonight should the silfvering continue. Cogliano sits merely one short-handed goal behind Paul Kariya on the franchise leaderboard with 15 as a Duck. Other milestones approach, but are unlikely to occur tonight - i.e. Corey Perry and Cam Fowler sit 7 assists away from the 400 and 200 career apples, respectively.
The Ducks approach of scoring by committee will be countered by the Capitals simple strategy of icing the man responsible for 28.5% of their teams (total) offence, Alex Ovechkin. Currently in the midst of his 9th 40 goal season, and on pace for 50, Ovie leads the league in goal scoring again (ho-hum) over Evgeni Malkin by a total of 4. While the Capitals do have other weapons at their disposal - as you would expect from a top-10 in the league scoring team - they pale in comparison to their great 8. Evgeny Kuznetsov plays bridesmaid to Ovechkin (on the Capitals) in both goals and points, yet has exactly half of goal scoring total. To put it in a more Ducks-centric point of view, the Ducks leading goal scorer has to increase his total number of goals by half that amount again, before he could start thinking about riding Ovie’s coattails. It’s a scary thought and perhaps doubly so, given that the Ducks, as all fans know, love to give opposing players milestones. Ovechkin sits 2 goals shy of 600 career goals. Gibson will need to be sharp, and the Ducks will need to keep it penalty free, if they’re to prevent another milestone falling in their building.
Even should Ovechkin reach this mark, the Ducks will still have a chance to win the game, given Holtby’s struggles in net this season. Two season’s removed from winning the Vezina trophy, and a finalist last season, Braden Holtby has not looked like a NHL starting goaltender this season. Currently sporting a 3.00 GAA, and .908 SV%, it seems very achievable to put some pucks in net behind him. Perhaps it is too soon to suggest that he is over the hill, or that he’s overrated. Perhaps our majestic captain, reminiscent of the baldest of eagles, will free him of the burden of minding the net - as two, lets call them celebrities of the Ducks twitter-verse, have suggested may occur. But given that the once great goaltender has produced merely one above average start in the past 10 games, the wheels are certainly wobbly, if not falling right off the cart and racing down the hill. Make no mistake, this is a team that is being kept afloat by the greatest goal scorer in international ice-hockey history. If the Ducks can continue their inspired play, they can turn this game into a track meet, and make it a fun to watch extravaganza of flashing red lights.
As an aside, tonight also marks the return of one of Murray’s greatest drafted-forward success stories - Devante Smith-Pelly. It’s always nice to see your friends get ahead, and while he’s no longer a Duck, he did provide some fun moments and big hits, with those big steady hips of his. While he’s in a much diminished role to that which he had with the Ducks, the man affectionately known as DSP has provided a valuable contribution to the lower lines in Washington with the occasional foray to the top line.
This game should prove to be a fun one. Any game you get the chance to see one of the greats in the flesh is worth the price of admission. That the stakes are so high for the Ducks playoff chances, make the anticipation undeniable. Get to the game and support the boys. But should you run into Ovie along the way, feel free to get me an autograph.