Date: Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Time: 7:00 PM PST
Location: Honda Center
TV: Fox Sports West
Radio: AM 830
The Anaheim Ducks have returned home after their annual road trip through Eastern Canada, and it went....far better than expected. In fact, it was a kind of success that the team hadn’t seen with a road trip of five games or more since 2002.
FYI: #NHLDucks completed their road trip by earning a point in all five contests (3-0-2) for the first time in 17+ years and the second time in franchise history (continuous trip five games or longer). In 02-03, they went 2-0-3 during a five-game trip from Nov. 12-17, 2002.— Kyle Shohara (@kyleshohara) February 9, 2020
So with that being said about the recent success of the Ducks through what is typically a very challenging road swing against some tough opponents, where does this leave the team? The trade deadline approaches in two weeks and general manager Bob Murray has a lot of decisions to make regarding the roster of present and the roster of the future before that day comes.
The Ducks will face the St. Louis Blues in their first game since returning home in a test that will hopefully make the path a bit more clear for Bob Murray as he approaches the deadline. The Blues are the defending Stanley Cup Champions; that much has been said repeatedly. However, they have slipped recently and now sit at fifth overall in the NHL, going 3-5-2 in their last 10 contests.
Their roster is still stocked with Stanley Cup-caliber talent and they still lead the Western Conference with 73 points through 56 games, but this could be a great opportunity for the Ducks to continue building on the foundation they laid on the road and keep the momentum pushing forward against a very difficult opponent.
The Ducks defense in particular will have their hands full trying to stop the high-powered Blues offense, and despite the fact that John Gibson is one of the best goaltenders on the planet, there is only so much he can do if the team isn’t helping him out in front. With guys like Michael Del Zotto, Jacob Larsson, Josh Manson, or Korbinian Holzer facing a potential trade in the next couple weeks, these games will be the ones that are watched the most closely under a microscope for the blue line corps.
On a quick side note, for those of you out there that are on #TeamTank for the Anaheim Ducks this season and would prefer to see the Ducks place their eggs in the Draft Lottery basket as the season nears its end, I ask you this. Would you rather see the Ducks roster turn out as bad as some of us seem to think they are and end up with a top prospect in Lafreniere or Byfield, or would you rather see the Ducks that are already on the team and developing turn into pleasant surprises and end up with a solid positive push of confidence heading into next season with someone like Trevor Zegras in the wings ready to burst onto the scene?
If you couldn’t tell by how I phrased the question, I’d much prefer the latter and think there have been enough positive signs from guys like Sam Steel, Troy Terry (who has hit something close to 273 posts in the last few games), and Max Jones to believe that this roster could be closer to playoff contention than many think, if a couple other pieces can fall into place, namely on defense. Call me silly, naive, stupid, whatever it might be, but I think speedy youth can only add so much value, whereas experience and chemistry can add a different type of value.
I will die on this hill if needed, but I will stand by saying that the team simply needs the time to develop and the experience against NHL competition and they will be fine. Bob Murray needs to be especially careful about the decisions he makes over the next few months (deadline, early offseason, and Draft Day), as this could become the full-scale rebuild that requires everyone to be moved out and the Ducks don’t compete again for 3-4 years, or it could be as simple as adding a couple key pieces and fueling the development to see if the Ducks can find themselves in the race within 2 years.
Keys to the Game
Special Teams - While the Ducks found a lot of success on the road in keeping up with tough opponents like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, the special teams still leaves a lot to be desired. The penalty kill and power play both need to continue to grow and improve if this Ducks team is going to be a true reflection of the 3-0-2 record they achieved on the road.
Goaltending - John Gibson will have to be great in this game against St. Louis if the Ducks are going to get the win. It’s no secret that the Ducks defense struggles to control shot volume and high-danger chances, and Gibson is no stranger to dealing with those situations either. Make the necessary saves and get rewarded with the points.
Transitions - The Ducks primarily seemed to be focusing on working on transitions out of the defensive zone and through the neutral zone in their last game against the Buffalo Sabres. The times they saw success with it gave them an early 3-0 lead on the road with a penalty shot for Troy Terry shortly after. Unfortunately, the game didn’t go as planned from that point forward, but if the Ducks can begin to be more consistent with moving the puck up ice efficiently, the offensive production will follow and this team can climb out of the cellar of goalscoring in the league.