Date: Tuesday October 29th, 2019
Time: 7:00 PM Pacific
Location: Honda Center, Anaheim
TV: Prime Ticket, ESPN+
Radio: AM 830
Your Enemy: Arctic Ice Hockey
After a demoralizing loss to the Vegas Golden Knights Sunday evening, the Anaheim Ducks will be looking to get back on track when they face the Winnipeg Jets at home tonight. After a brutal road trip that saw Anaheim drop three of four, the exception being a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche, a seven game homestand where they will play teams that have won a combined 35 of 80 games this season could be just what the doctor ordered.
While the Ducks will be glad to be back home, they will have to find their footing without at least one of their most prominent players. Josh Manson will be out for an extended period with a lower body injury while Ondrej Kase is out with an upper body injury. Both the Ducks coaching staff in addition to both Manson and Kase will be hoping a little home cooking and access to the teams newly revamped medical staff will help to get him back on the ice sooner than later, though how soon that is will be anyone’s guess.
Hampus Lindholm will be hoping to make their way back into the Anaheim lineup after both missed games at the end of the road trip. Lindholm has been vital to Anaheim’s early success this season, and not having him for any period of time could significantly hurt the Ducks ability to keep up their surprising push to remain relevant in the West.
The Winnipeg Jets entered the 2019 offseason with two main goals: figure out what to do with Jacob Trouba, and re-sign their two big RFAs. They succeeded on both counts. Unfortunately, they also found themselves without much of a defense come training camp.
With Atlanta Thrasher legend Dustin Byufglien seemingly taking some time to decide whether or not to continue his career of crushing both hockey pucks and lesser human beings, Paul Maurice is left with only two defensemen who have played at least 200 games in the league in Josh Morrissey and Dmitry Kulikov. None of the other four have reached the 150 games mark yet, and while there is some hope that Pionk could develop into a passable NHL defender, there are significant questions about the long-term viability of the rest of this unit.
Just ask Connor Hellebuyck who has managed to put up a .933 SV% despite facing almost 300 shots in just nine games in what I can only assume is him taking Halloween to an extreme and dressing up as his hero, John Gibson, for the entire month of October.
Keys to the Game
1. Aggressive Forecheck – The best way to take advantage of an in experienced defense is to get in on the forecheck early and often. If the Ducks can find ways to generate pressure and force Winnipeg’s defenders to make quick, reactionary passes, they will have a chance to create turnovers deep in the offensive zone and can turn that into sustained pressure and zone time.
Anaheim has a number of players who can use size, speed, or a combination of both to make life difficult for the Jets. Players like Max Jones, Troy Terry, Nick Ritchie, and Carter Rowney should be willing and able to make life as miserable as possible on the Jets defenders and hopefully generate some easy chances for the Ducks, similar to Max Comtois’s assist to Getzlaf in the Vegas game.
2. Second Opportunities – As noted earlier, Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is putting up an impressive .933 SV% despite giving up 33 shots a game. Despite a winning record, Anaheim is in the bottom half of the league in goals for, and that is something that will need to improve if they hope to stay in the playoff picture as the season continues. As much fun as drop passes for slapshots and give-and-go’s can be, the best way to generate goals is on rebounds in and around the net. Anaheim has the size and skill up front to push around the inexperienced Jets defense and should be looking to leverage that advantage to their benefit. Because the reality is, with as well as he’s playing right now, the Ducks probably aren’t beating Hellebuyck on unscreened point shots and wristers from the wings.
3. Powerplay – Three goals on 31 opportunities just isn’t going to cut it. Anaheim’s power play has been the source of significant consternation for multiple seasons. If the Ducks are hoping to have any chance at sustained success this season, scoring goals with the extra man is going to be paramount to that end. While the results haven’t come, there has seemed to be an uptick in the procedural aspects of the Anaheim special teams. Starting off the home stand with a goal or two against the Jets could be the confidence boost the Ducks need to finally get the ball rolling on the power play.
Players to Watch
With the Anaheim Ducks possibly missing one of their best defensemen tonight, it will once again fall on John Gibson’s Vezina worthy shoulders to keep this team in games. Gibson is currently posting a .938 SV% and 1.96 GAA which are the kinds of numbers that GMs love to overlook come June when the Shooter Tutor in south Florida wins another Vezina because the team in front of him is full of all-stars. But I digress.
Gibson is top 10 in both high danger shots against and, subsequently, high danger saves, while being outside the top 10 in high danger goals against. These are very good things and we should all be very proud of him. As he’s gotten older Gibson has managed to cut down on some of the Hasek-ian theatrics when it comes to saves due to better positioning and improved rebound control. That doesn’t mean however, that he’s any less capable of cracking SportsCenter’s top 10 on any given night. John Gibson is the best goalie in the world and with the team playing a more modern scheme in front of him, he should continue to post the kind of numbers that have so firmly entrenched him in the Dark Horse MVP category.
Patrik Laine made headlines this summer when he said he felt his talent merited top line minutes. Winnipeg in turn responded by saying that his talent surely did, but his effort made that a non-starter. After spending significant portions of last season mired in the kind of goal scoring slump that makes everyone watch you with increased scrutiny, there was a lot of talk about how, when not scoring goals, the Finnish phenom wasn’t doing much of anything else either.
This year, with a nifty little bridge contract in his back pocket and the promise of a major payday in the not too distant future, Laine seems to be making a concerted effort to dispel those concerns. While he only has 3 goals on the year, he has managed to rack up 10 assists playing alongside Mark Scheifele, which is half of what he had in 82 games last year.
The Talented Mr. Laine has one of the best shots in the league, and defenses know it. If he can start to compliment that shot with some playmaking, he can create even more space for himself to get his shot off and then everyone really is up a creek when it comes to dealing with him in their own zone. And with a hilariously low SH% on the year, it’s only a matter of time before the goals start to catchup to, and probably surpass, his assists.