Here lies the battered corpse of the Anaheim Ducks, swept out of the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the San Jose Sharks.
Of any of the playoff obituaries that I’ve had the chance to write, the Ducks was likely the one I was looking most forward to. After what they did to my Edmonton Oilers in last year’s postseason, Anaheim has inherited the mantle of “Most Hated Team in the NHL Not Named the Calgary Flames.” Deservedly so, too – one doesn’t have to look much further than the duo of check that Corey Perry and right here Ryan Kesler to understand the hatred. I digress.
The formerly-Mighty Ducks fell in a clean sweep to the San Jose Sharks in the first round. It’s the first time this millennium that the Ducks have been swept; the last time that Anaheim lost out in four straight was the 1999 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the then-defending champion Detroit Red Wings. It’s a stunning defeat for a team that had been red-hot heading into the postseason, as Anaheim had passed San Jose late in the season to gain home-ice advantage in the first round. Overall, the Ducks went 10-1-1 in their final 12 games of the season and looked primed to make some noise in this year’s edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Oh, how the Mighty have fallen.
Where Did It Go Wrong?
As far as the Ducks go, the better question this post-season is perhaps “where didn’t it go wrong”?
From their first line to their goaltender, every member of the Ducks saw their performance drop in the second season. Not one member of Anaheim’s vaunted first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell scored a point at even strength. The third line was even worse; after combining for over 100 points in the regular season, neither Adam Henrique, Nick Ritchie or Ondrej Kase registered a single point throughout the series. In fact, only seven Ducks players were able to grace the scoresheet through the four-game sweep, with five of those representing forwards. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Sharks only had three players who failed to register a point throughout the series; the Ducks were unable to match the Sharks depth and paid dearly for it. It was also clear that Anaheim missed star defenceman Cam Fowler dearly; the 26-year-old missed the first round for the second straight year, and his puck-moving presence on the point was missed at both even strength and the powerplay where the Ducks were a mere 2-for-12.
However, not all the blame can be placed on the Ducks lack of scoring; in fact, there should be more blamed on the Sharks ability to seemingly score at will throughout the series. It goes without saying, but this is likely a full series that Anaheim goaltender John Gibson would like to have back. After a terrific regular season in which he posted a .926 save percentage to match a 2.43 GAA, the Pittsburgh native’s game fell off a cliff in the postseason. Gibson allowed over a full goal-per-game more, with his numbers ballooning to a 3.59 GAA and a .889 SV%. It’s tough to win in any league with numbers like that, and especially when there’s no offensive support to lighten the load.
Simply put, Anaheim was outclassed on both sides of the puck, with little-to-no help from John Gibson to bail them out. They were unable to solve the Sharks Martin Jones, who owned a sparkling .970 SV% and 1.00 GAA throughout the four-game series. The Sharks also managed to get the depth scoring that the Ducks lacked, and with the top line not picking up points it was essential that the lower end of the depth chart got it done. However, they didn’t, and the Ducks find themselves out of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with more of a fizzle than a bang.
Is There a Heartbeat?
Absolutely. While the Sharks held a winning record over the Ducks in the regular season, Anaheim is still a strong squad. I’m looking at John Gibson‘s poor playoff performance as more of an aberration than an expectation going forward, and feel as though he’ll come into next season with something to prove to both the fans and himself. A motivated John Gibson is something to look out for, and while he had a miserable four-game stretch, he’s still an elite goaltender in the NHL.
I’m also banking on a bounce-back playoff from the Ducks core forwards. Outside of Jakob Silfverberg and – ugh – Ryan Kesler, Anaheim’s forward group looked out of sorts throughout the entirety of the first round. However, this is a group that made the Western Conference Final just over a year ago; they’re talented, and much like their goaltender will be looking for redemption in 2019. With a healthy Cam Fowler and a return to form for their top line, I still believe they could make some noise in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.