ANAHEIM - In a mostly regrettable season with no playoffs on the horizon, the focus falls inevitably on the future for the Anaheim Ducks.
Given that, they had to like what they saw tonight.
Rookies Sam Steel and Max Jones scored the game's first two goals to help Anaheim roll to a 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Fan Appreciation Night at Honda Center. Jones and Steel were selected 24th and 30th overall, respectively, in the 2016 NHL Draft and figure to be a major part of what's to come for the Ducks next season and beyond.
"You could tell with more experience and ice time, they're getting more comfortable with the puck making plays," said Ducks assistsant coach Mark Morrison. "They're not just getting rid of the puck. They're making heads-up plays. You can see some of the skill starting to come out. Steel made some nice little short passes. Quick heads-up plays. Jones was on the puck all night. I really liked both of their games."
Though the Ducks have typically owned the Flames over the years in both the regular season and postseason, Calgary still sits comfortably on top of the Pacific Division and Western Conference with 107 points, 29 ahead of Anaheim. With the conference title safely in hand, the Flames did hold a number of their prominent players out of the lineup, including Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Sean Monahan, Travis Hamonic, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin and Sam Bennett.
Steel opened the scoring with a one-timer from the high slot, the payoff of a dominant shift for his line with Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg. It was his fifth goal in 21 games this campaign.
Video: CGY@ANA: Steel blasts home one-timer for opening goal
"It's fun playing with those guys," Steel said. "They're creative, smart and skilled players. I'm just trying to help out in any way I can."
Less than two minutes later, Jones made it 2-0 with his second of the season, spinning off Calgary d-man Oliver Kylington and slinging a wrist shot over goalie David Rittich's shoulder.
Video: CGY@ANA: Jones spins and whips a shot past Rittich
"We were controlling the puck in the offensive zone. I knew they were tired," Jones said. "Figured if I got the puck down low, I'd try to make a power move to the net. I caught the goalie cheating, so I threw it short side."
Derek Ryan got one back for Calgary not long afterward, but a Ducks veteran regained the two-goal cushion in the opening five minutes of the second. Ryan Getzlaf went 1-on-1 with Calgary defenseman Rasmus Andersson, made a quick stop then cut to the right to unload a snap shot that beat Rittich blocker side.
Video: CGY@ANA: Getzlaf beats Rittich from the circle
Calgary sent Rittich to the bench for an extra attacker with a minute and a half left to no avail, thanks in part to goalie Ryan Miller, who had 25 stops tonight in earning his 378th career win (tops among U.S.-born goaltenders).
"I'm happy to bounce back after a couple disappointing starts," Miller said. "It means a lot to end the season on a win and a positive note as a goaltender."
The Ducks had once owned one of the more extraordinary streaks in all of pro sports against the Flames, having won 25 consecutive regular season home games over Calgary before the streak was snapped on October 9 of last year. It was the first regular season loss at home to the Flames since Jan. 19, 2004, but the Ducks got payback with a victory at Honda Center on December 29, 2017 and did it again last November 7. With the victory tonight, Anaheim has won 28 of the last 29 over Calgary at home in the regular season.
Tonight was also retrubution for a 6-1 drubbing the Flames handed Anaheim in Calgary last Friday night.
"It's big," Steel said. "You want to win every night. But when a team beats you that bad, you definitely want to come back and have a better showing."
The Ducks (34-37-10) close out the season Friday night against the Kings at Honda Center.