Just a year ago at the Christmas break, Anaheim Ducks’ captain Ryan Getzlaf stood fifth in the overall NHL scoring race, with 12 goals and 39 points. The Ducks were running away with the Pacific Division back then, and ultimately pushed the Chicago Blackhawks to seven games in the Western Conference final before losing.
The Anaheim mantra – and mandate – going into this year was clear and unambiguous: Stanley Cup or bust.
But as the NHL approaches its mid-season, there is little Stanley Cup chatter surrounding the Ducks – and they may qualify as the league’s biggest first-half disappointment.
As they made their way through Western Canada, on a trip that began with a date against the Calgary Flames Tuesday night, most of the speculation centred on coach Bruce Boudreau’s future, and what might happen if the Ducks don’t get it turned around soon.
Anaheim won its first game coming out of the break against the Philadelphia Flyers, and Getzlaf scored only his second goal of the season – the first that wasn’t into an empty net.
“Unless you’ve played and been a scorer and realize the angst you go through when you’re not scoring, it’s tough to imagine,” said Boudreau. “I’m sure it was a little relief off his shoulders, but he knows that it was just one game. You’ve got to do it day-in and day-out. For us to be successful, we need him and Corey [Perry] doing that kind of stuff.”
Getzlaf had only two goals in last spring’s playoff run to go with 18 assists, so making him the focal point for the Ducks’ slumping offence isn’t entirely fair. He has always been more of a set-up man than a pure goal scorer, which is why his chemistry with Perry works so well. Perry is a sniper; Getzlaf gets him the puck. And when the two are in sync, the Ducks’ top line can play with any trio in the league.
What really ails Anaheim is a lack of reliable offence from anyone other than the big two. Ryan Kesler has just four goals after scoring 20 last season. Jakob Silfverberg has just three in 34 games, exactly the same totals as Carl Hagelin and Andrew Cogliano. Patrick Maroon has one in 30; Jiri Sekac one in 16. Shawn Horcoff, signed essentially to play a bottom-six defensive role, has more goals than all of them, with five in 33 games.
When the Ducks switched out several key pieces in the supporting cast – workhorse defenceman Francois Beauchemin (to Colorado) along with forwards Kyle Palmieri (New Jersey), Matt Beleskey (Boston), Devante Smith-Pelly (Montreal) and Emerson Etem (New York Rangers) have all left since the last NHL trading deadline – the hope was that the newcomers would help them achieve their Stanley Cup ambitions. So far, they remain a fragile work in progress.
“There are times when certain guys may slump during the year, but I think at the beginning of this year, it felt like there were 20 guys who slumped at exactly the same time,” said Cogliano. “Some guys have come out of it a little, but collectively it’s been really weird.
“The league’s been way tougher defensively, but ultimately we haven’t done a good enough job getting to the areas to score. It’s tough to describe because it’s something I wouldn’t have imagined happening. But it’s over now and we’re approaching the next half – since the Christmas break – as a new season. We’re very fortunate that our division hasn’t been good and we’re right there. We’re not out of it and we’re actually in an okay spot – but these games are the games we need to win.”
The scoring stats for every other team in the Pacific Division were weirdly bunched between 93 and 96 goals as of Tuesday. But Anaheim was at 66, worst in the NHL. It is a hard-to-explain phenomenon – how a team that has been so good for so long can fall off the map so completely for no apparent reason.
Boudreau says he’s never seen anything quite like it.
“From me, coaching the way I try to be an aggressive coach, and be an offensive-minded guy, it’s been pretty frustrating,” he said. “I know there’s no stat for it, but I bet you we’ve hit more posts than anyone in the league. It’s just one of those things. Everybody – right from the start, no one could put the puck in the net, so they all hold the sticks a little tighter. And consequently, it’s hard to get going. But the last few games, I think we’ve played a lot better.”Report Typo/Error