Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

New York City was not kind to the Anaheim Ducks the past few days, as they have now dropped 13 of their last 14 games following back-to-back losses to the New York Islanders (Dec. 13) and New York Rangers (Dec. 15).  

It’s been a first half from hell for the Ducks, whose late-October winning streak has now been sandwiched by prolonged stretches of mediocre play and gut-wrenching losses. Broadly speaking, the calendar year 2023 (outside of it bearing historical significance for the franchise) is one to forget and move on from as quickly as possible. Thank goodness we are close. Let’s look at some of the themes from the two games against the Islanders and Rangers before the Ducks hop across the Hudson River to battle the New Jersey Devils on Sunday (Dec. 17).

Fortuitous Bounce Gets Terry Back on the Board

Ducks fans have had a front seat to Troy Terry’s rise to stardom. There was real jubilation (and expectation) once he signed his much-earned contract extension this past summer. But he’s underwhelmed this season and there’s no way around it.

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Against the Islanders, he got back on the board with his sixth goal of the season. It was a rather fortuitous play, as Terry threw the puck along the ice toward the net, where it caromed off an Islanders defender and past Semyon Varlamov. When you’re in a scoring slump like that, though, you don’t care how it goes in. You just need one. And Terry got one. It was his first goal in 17 games, which is the last thing anyone thought they would say about the dynamic finisher going into the campaign.

Additionally, he, Alex Killorn, and Leo Carlsson were among the most effective Ducks against the Rangers. All three players had good looks at the net and generated chances for each other. With 10 shots between them against the Rangers, perhaps they build off that. Now that Terry has lifted the weighty burden of a severe goal-scoring draught off his back, he can reset and get his next one, which hopefully comes much sooner this time around.

Injuries Are Opening the Door for Other Players

While there was hope that Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish, and Jamie Drysdale would play this week (they’re practicing with the team this trip), they’ve remained out of the lineup. It has created quite the deficit in explosive offensive talent but also a surplus of opportunities for other players to step up in their absence. Some players are doing a lot with the opportunity.

Brett Leason is one such player. He scored the lone goal in the Rangers loss. The play started when Brock McGinn laid a strong hit on Ryan Lindgren, forcing a turnover to Ilya Lyubushkin who quickly transitioned the puck to Leason. It gave the Ducks an early lead. Leason has scored timely goals this season, playing up and down the lineup and providing strong, physical play.

Brett Leason, Anaheim Ducks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In particular, Killorn is getting an extended look on the top line with Zegras on the sidelines. He, Terry, and Carlsson have many games under their belt together now, and the hope was that this line would get going once McTavish, Strome, and Vatrano inevitably cooled off. The jury is still out on them as a trio, but Killorn should continue to get his chance to be an impact offensive player while the Ducks get guys healthy.

Finally, Adam Henrique, perhaps by default, has also seen extra ice. He didn’t make much of an impact against the Rangers, but he did score against the Islanders and the Jets (Dec. 10). Along with Terry, Henrique has struggled this season but did have a better week. Will he continue to help this team generate offense? The door is open for him to. We’ve seen it in the past, and the Ducks need it now more than ever.

Strome and Vatrano Struggling Without McTavish

Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano have both led resurgent seasons in year two of their Ducks tenures. They’ve played with energy and snarl. They’ve developed great chemistry with sophomore sensation McTavish and, for a while, drove the train offensively for this team.

By and large, the offense as a whole has dwindled. These two have really felt McTavish’s absence, though. In the seven games since he went down in the win over the Avalanche (Dec. 2), Strome is minus-four with zero points and 11 shots on goal. Vatrano is minus-five with zero points and 14 shots on goal. They’re firing the puck on the net, which is great and in line with head coach Greg Cronin’s philosophy of volume shooting, but it hasn’t led to goals in some time. One has to wonder how much McTavish’s absence has played a role in that. These two will definitely get back on the scoresheet. It’s just a matter of when.

Ducks Aren’t Getting Calls, But Their Discipline Is Still Pretty Poor

Take a look at any game sheet for the Ducks this season, and it’s highly likely you’ll see a severe deficit in the number of penalties drawn to penalties taken. After the Rangers loss, the deficit dropped to minus-36, meaning they have taken 36 more penalties than they have drawn. That’s the worst in the league by far.

Yes, it’s true that the Ducks aren’t getting a lot of calls. But they aren’t helping themselves. They’re putting themselves shorthanded far too often, giving superior power play units far too many chances to score and pepper either John Gibson or Lukas Dostal. It’s a disturbing lack of discipline that you wouldn’t expect from a group littered with veteran players who know how to lead and play the right way.

Losing the special teams battle has been a theme of the Ducks’ season so far. It was the difference in both these losses, and it will continue to be so if the Ducks take three, four, or more minor penalties a game. You just can’t expect to win games when you’re playing shorthanded so much.

The Ducks Need Zegras, Drysdale, and McTavish in the Worst Way

If there’s a bigger picture to all of this, it’s that the Ducks need Zegras, McTavish, and Drysdale in the worst way. Here are just a few of the many things the Ducks miss about this trio: their talent, potential, explosiveness, and creativity. All three of them simultaneously missing significant time has been as unfortunate as it was improbable to happen in the first place. Yet it did anyway, and the Ducks are where they are: struggling to stay afloat without them.

All the Ducks can do, though, is look forward. Worry about the next one. They have Jack Hughes and the New Jersey Devils, who are 7-3 in their last 10 games, up next. Puck drop is Sunday (Dec. 17), at 4 PM PST.

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