The Anaheim Ducks returned from the All-Star break last night against the Edmonton Oilers, who have now won 17 of 18 games after their victory at Honda Center. Though they couldn’t quite hold on in the final frame, the Ducks were ready to play from the opening puck drop and produced one of their most complete games of the season. Let’s recap the game and look at some positive and negative takeaways.
Positive: Encouraging Game from Ryan Strome, Adam Henrique, and Ducks’ Power Play
Ryan Strome scored goals seven and eight last night in perhaps his best game since his red-hot month of October to open the season. On the first, he exhibited superb patience to carry the puck around an outstretched Calvin Pickard. On his second, he corralled a cross-ice feed from All-Star Frank Vatrano and sent the puck upstairs past Pickard. He played with a goal-scorers mentality, and it paid off for him last night. Amidst the injuries and line shuffling of late, Strome has developed a nice chemistry with Leo Carlsson and Adam Henrique.
Speaking of Henrique, who continued a hot streak of his own with two assists, he extended his point streak to seven games and has compiled 13 points in his last nine games. He was fast, offensive, and tenacious, which has served him well and most certainly has increased his trade value ahead of this season’s deadline of March 8. After an inconsistent first few months of the season, when he spent time up and down the lineup, Henrique has become a dependable source of offense at a time when the Ducks sorely need it. That being said, he remains atop the Ducks’ list as a trade candidate; time will reveal Henrique’s fate in a Ducks uniform.
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The power play was another encouraging sign offensively, as it went a perfect two-for-two against the Oilers. The Ducks kept it simple, moved the puck, and looked to shoot. Both goals resulted from players looking to get the puck to the net. Cam Fowler walked the blue line beautifully to his left and fired a simple shot toward the right side of the goal around a perfect screen by Henrique. Strome’s second goal of the night was on the power play and likewise resulted from the willingness to be aggressive and look toward the net when he had the puck in a good area. Simple plays can make the biggest difference, and the Ducks’ power play, specifically the unit comprised of Fowler, Henrique, Strome, Vatrano, and Jakob Silfverberg, came up huge.
Positive: Team Defense Held Connor McDavid at Bay Until the Third
For most of the game, the Ducks effectively neutralized Connor McDavid. Radko Gudas was all over him physically. Urho Vaakanainen mirrored him pretty well on a variety of shifts. Silfverberg even goaded him into an undisciplined penalty at one point in the game. There was a team commitment to stopping him that worked really well…for two periods.
Stopping him completely is a tough task, even for the best defensive teams. McDavid finally broke loose in the third period, when he contributed primary assists on Zach Hyman’s 31st and Leon Draisatl’s 24th goals of the season and a secondary assist on Evander Kane’s empty net hat-trick goal in the game’s final minute. He continues to prove that he doesn’t need many opportunities to make a difference, and he was efficient with his puck touches when he finally found some space to operate in the final frame. There was only so much the Ducks could do.
Negative: John Gibson Leaves the Game with an Injury
Lukáš Dostál replaced John Gibson to begin the third period. Greg Cronin didn’t have much to offer in his postgame comments, so it might be a day or two before we find out the reason, or severity, of the injury that forced Gibson’s exit. He didn’t appear to injure anything, and he didn’t leave the ice hobbled at the end of the second period.
Despite the three-goal third period for the Oilers, Dostál fared pretty well in his 20 minutes of action. He made a crucial save early in the frame on a two-on-one that included a pass by McDavid to set up Hyman for a mini-breakaway. Hyman moved the puck forehand to backhand but couldn’t lift the pack over Dostál’s outstretched right pad. It was an incredible display of athleticism, especially considering it was five minutes into the period, and he probably wasn’t warmed up. It’s tough to blame him on either of the two non-empty-net goals, too; the Oilers’ puck movement and finishing ability were just too crisp. Dostál continues to make his case that he deserves just as much playing time as Gibson down the stretch.
Plenty to Like About Competitive Loss to Oilers
After getting outclassed and outscored 15-4 in their two previous meetings, the Ducks brought a much more complete effort in this third matchup. Their team defense held tough, all four lines played well offensively, and the goaltending was sufficient enough to keep them in striking distance. A flawless game was required to beat the Oilers, and they didn’t quite get it. There was plenty to like, but they can use those positives to prepare for their upcoming four-game swing through Eastern Canada next week.