At first glance, the Anaheim Ducks head into Sunday’s home clash with the Columbus Blue Jackets on the heels of three straight losses.
However, as the Ducks (29-33-14, 72 points) prepare to face the Blue Jackets (35-34-6, 76 points) a deeper dive allows two of those defeats to be seen as a positive. Anaheim may be long dusted from playoff contention, but it finished the road swing with consecutive overtime losses to the Eastern Conference-leading Florida Panthers and two-time defending Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
“You can look at it and say there’s not much to play for, but there always is,” forward Adam Henrique said. “Whether it’s personally, guys in contracts, guys trying to reach new career highs or whatever it may be, there’s always something to play for. There’s always someone watching. We have a new GM (Pat Verbeek). We have to find that motivation.”
The Ducks may have just one win in their last six games (1-3-2) and two victories in 18 outings (2-11-5), but there are positive signs.
Most notable is the emergence of Trevor Zegras, who needs two points to tie Bobby Ryan’s franchise mark of 57 for most by a rookie. His pairing with Troy Terry has many in the organization believing they have a dynamic duo to build their offensive attack around, akin to the situation they had with captain Ryan Getzlaf — who is retiring after this season — and Corey Perry.
“They are two extremely talented kids who feed off each other much like Perry and I did,” Getzlaf said. “Terry is more of a finisher and ‘Z’ is more of a passer. That’s definitely the way our organization has drafted and tried to arrange things.”
The Blue Jackets, who were officially eliminated on Saturday when the Washington Capitals defeated the Montreal Canadiens, saw their two-game winning streak snapped by a 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
Even though missing the playoffs was a fait accompli for a few weeks, the Blue Jackets can be credited for keeping their hopes alive longer than a half-dozen other Eastern Conference squads. Columbus, which is among the youngest squads in the league and going through a rebuild, was pegged to be a bottom feeder prior to the season yet hung around the playoff picture deep into the season.
“Whatever our situation is, we are not going to give up,” goaltender Elvis Merzlikins told the Columbus Dispatch. “We’re not just going to go and just skate around and shoot some pucks, you know? We are not beer league team. We are a professional hockey team.”
Still, Saturday’s clash provided a lesson the Blue Jackets must heed going forward.
The Kings, who are in a dogfight to hold the third spot in the Pacific Division, were the better team through the first two periods. They staked a two-goal edge that Columbus couldn’t overcome.
“You knew they were coming. This was a huge game for them. … They don’t give up much. They’re a real stingy team, so you’ve got to fight for your ice and you knew you were going to get their best,” coach Brad Larsen said. “This was pretty much a ‘must-win’ for that team, so I thought we got a little bit better and it was a good experience for us.”
–Field Level Media