By Kyle Shohara
Under ominous skies and a steady rain outside, the sun was shining inside Honda Center as the Ducks got back to work after a day off yesterday. Winning is the best medicine, it seems, as today the Ducks were upbeat, loose, and very vocal. With wins in four of their past five games and points in the past six, the Ducks have moved themselves into the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division.
“We’re passionate about this game and about the team, and to be honest, we were really sick of losing,” said Ryan Kesler. “You could see the frustration. Collectively, we took it upon ourselves to hit the reset button and restart.”
It’s remarkable, quite frankly, that the Ducks find themselves in the third spot after a rough first two months to the season. But because the rest of the division excluding the LA Kings struggled along with Anaheim, the Ducks are very much alive and well.
And now with their power play clicking, the Ducks have positioned themselves to make a strong push over this season-long eight-game homestand.
The Ducks have scored with the man advantage in a season-tying three straight games (last: Nov. 9-13), going 4-for-6 (66.7%). The Ducks have also scored six power-play goals in their last five games (6-for-11, 54.5%), including a season-tying two PPGs in a 4-1 win over Winnipeg on Jan. 3 at Honda Center.
“It’s something that’s going to win us games,” says Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, “so that’s why we practice it every day. We’re not the highest scoring team in the league, so we need ways to generate offense. It gives you a cushion.”
Adds Kesler, “We were winning 1-0 games and the power play has been helping us. Every game you score a power-play goal and put up a zero on the PK side gives you a good chance of winning.”
Strong on the penalty kill all season long, Anaheim killed all four penalties against in its Jan. 3 win and has been successful in the last 16 consecutive penalty kills over the last five games. Anaheim continues to pace the NHL in penalty kill percentage (88.6%), having successfully killed 117-of-132 penalties in 38 games and 37-of-40 over the last 12 contests (92.5%). The Ducks also lead the NHL in fewest power-play goals allowed in 2015-16 (15).
“We have three good duos that take pride in doing their job on the PK,” said Carl Hagelin. “All of us have been in the league for a while, so we know what it takes. The more experience you have on the PK, the better it is. The goalies have played great, and the defense is doing its job in front of the net, boxing guys out and clearing the puck when they have the chance.”
ON THE LEAFS
The Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs mirrored each other in the first month of the season. Both clubs ended the month of October with identical 1-7-2 records, and as of today, the Ducks have 39 points and the Leafs have 37. They’ve played better as of late, much like the Ducks, and with a new coach, new general manager and new philosophy, this isn’t the same Maple Leafs team from years past.
“They now have a work ethic that’s as good as anybody,” said Boudreau. “They’ve got speed and they’re playing with structure. They’re playing pretty good right now and beat a good St. Louis team, 4-1, pretty easily the other night.”
Ducks assistant coach Paul MacLean coached alongside Mike Babcock for a number of years when they were with the Detroit Red Wings, and MacLean also coached against the Wings when he was the bench boss in Ottawa.
“The one good thing is Mac worked with Babcock for a number of years, and he hasn’t changed anything,” said Boudreau, who says he sees that Red Wings style in the Leafs, which includes short passes, possession and speed.