Even onlookers with the most orange-tinted lenses probably didn’t see this coming.
November 4th, 2017: the Anaheim Ducks are set to face the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center. The familiar faces that have dotted this rivalry, however, are not present. In lieu of Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim’s top centers go by the name of Derek Grant and Chris Wagner.
Although the Ducks would offer a quasi-respectable performance that evening, it did little to abate the concern that the injuries had cast over the franchise. They would continue to besiege the roster for the next two months, like a fighter constantly being hit with jabs.
Fast forward the tape five months from that night. Anaheim has 101 points in the standings, and is set to face those same Sharks, with home ice advantage to boot. Just like they drew it up, surely.
The injuries, however, have not relented their jabbing. Minute-munching defenseman Cam Fowler is set to miss part of the first round series, at the very least. Ryan Kesler, though back in the lineup for months now, is still plagued by a recovering hip. And then, most concerningly, is the health of Anaheim’s stalwart in net: John Gibson.
The 24-year old franchise goaltender’s body has flown through heavy turbulence all season long, and a recent collision has him out on a day-to-day basis. As resilient as this Ducks’ team has been, they’re a long shot to beat anyone without their potential Vezina nominee in net. Backup Ryan Miller has shined in relief, but being the man in the playoffs is above his pay grade.
Luckily for Anaheim, their rivals 370 miles to the north aren’t a picture of health either. Joe Thornton, the bearded composer that harmonizes the San Jose power play, is uncertain to play at all in round one. Evander Kane, San Jose’s prized trade deadline acquisition, seems to be fighting through injury.
Health is only where the Sharks’ concerns begin. Head coach Pete DeBoer’s men meandered their way through the last two and a half weeks of the regular season. They gave away a very crucial home ice advantage by nearly losing out their remaining calendar. All the while, goaltender Martin Jones hasn’t exactly given an awe-inspiring performance in net.
Home ice could very well determine this series. With Fowler out, Ducks’ head coach Randy Carlyle will have to meticulously deploy his beleaguered blueline. Marcus Pettersson and Andy Welinski, who were a pairing in AHL San Diego not too long ago, will now receive a baptism by fire.
Francois Beauchemin and Brandon Montour, a pairing that’s struggled throughout the year, will have to come up big as well. And then of course, the shutdown pair of Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson will be tasked to air-seal the Sharks’ most potent forwards. They’ll have to deliver a signature performance for Anaheim to get through.
Up front, Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell will have to continue to carry the mail. Kesler and his line mates will have to return to form after a tough season. The third line, featuring newly-minted 20-goal scorer Ondrej Kase, will have to chip in offensively. Youngster Troy Terry is unlikely to see action, but he’s as good, if not better of a bet to make an impact on this series as either Jason Chimera or Chris Kelly are.
Again, none of this really matters for the Ducks without Gibson. Miller can get them by for a game or two, maybe even three, but that’s playing with fire. Should Gibson play this entire series, which to date there seems to be no indication that he will not, Anaheim stands more than a chance when factoring in home ice. The Southern California club jabbed by injuries all season long has developed quite the chin, while their Bay Area rivals reversed their way into the playoffs, bumping a few proverbial vehicles in the process.
The orange-tinted lens folk may not have seen this coming back on November 4th, but Anaheim will be moving on.
Ducks in 7