Once-mighty Ducks have reasons for optimism

duckstrio.jpgEveryone from Ducks beat reporter Helene Elliot to PHT’s own Brandon Worley have written off Anaheim making the playoffs because, frankly, they don’t have much of a chance. At all.

It’s natural for fans to be disappointed with a failed playoff run, especially since the Ducks managed to sneak in last year and make a lot of noise. Looking at their roster, it’s not exactly as if they sport a threadbare group. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Scott Niedermayer and Jonas Hiller are all great-to-elite players (which showed when they represented their countries in the Olympics, along with Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu).

Elliot explains the Ducks’ troubles quite well.

The Ducks are done and won’t make the playoffs this season. And for a lot of reasons.

Their defense is porous, their injury list too often led by key players like Selanne, Saku Koivu and Joffrey Lupul (out 38 games after back surgery and complications).

Indeed, it looks like Anaheim is better off looking at next year and beyond. The good news is that while the Ducks will go into the summer with a host of difficult questions to answer and plenty of holes to fill, they have a promising foundation of young players. The bad news is that the team may be hard pressed to make quick improvements to their troublesome defense with the probable retirement of Niedermayer and (as Earl Sleek will tell you) the team’s self-imposed budget.


Still, the team has the aforementioned rugged trio of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan to go along with Hiller. If the Ducks are lucky enough to convince Ryan to sign for Getzlaf-Perry money, they’d have those 4 players for about $20 million. That’s not a bad value for such a solid core, all entering the prime of their careers.

I wasn’t crazy about the trade that sent Pronger to Philadelphia, although I can see the logic if Anaheim was being pressured to extend the aging star defenseman. My beef was that Joffrey Lupul is a bad value considering his $4.25 million salary and the fact that he’s never scored more than 53 points. No doubt, though, even with the Flyers making the playoffs, it still was a big deal that the Ducks received two first rounders, well-liked prospect Luca Sbisa and a conditional third rounder.

GM Bob Murray will have to make some great decisions (and draft picks) as the Ducks’ transition from old to young goes from incremental to dramatic. After all, it is likely that Koivu, Selanne and Niedermayer are in their final season with Anaheim (and possibly the NHL). There’s reason to believe that the Ducks might see some long term gains. The question is: how short term will the pain be?

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    Stars put Spezza on injured reserve, recall Faksa from AHL Texas

    Dallas Stars v Arizona Coyotes
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    Sitting three points out of top spot in the Central Division and on the eve of an important divisional clash on home ice with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Dallas Stars have placed center Jason Spezza on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, the club announced on Friday.

    Spezza, 32, was injured during Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars can move back to within a point of Chicago for the division lead with a regulation win on Saturday.

    In 52 games this season, Spezza has 18 goals and 40 points, which ties him with Patrick Sharp for fourth on the team in total points.

    With Spezza out, the Stars recalled 22-year-old forward Radek Faksa from the Texas Stars in the AHL.

    Faksa has 15 goals and 26 points in 28 games this season with Texas. In 18 games with the NHL Stars, he has one goal and three points.

    Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

    Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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    Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

    Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

    “To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

    “When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

    According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

    The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

    Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

    The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

    St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

    Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

    Anders Lindback
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    Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

    The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

    Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

    Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

    Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

    Elsewhere…

    — No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

    Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

    — Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.

    A ‘pretty solid two-way player,’ Sundqvist to make NHL debut for Penguins

    Pittsburgh Penguins' Oskar Sundqvist (49) collides with Minnesota Wild's Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of a NHL preseason hockey game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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    The latest Penguins injuries, these ones to Evgeni Malkin and Eric Fehr, have led to an opportunity for Oskar Sundqvist.

    Sundqvist will make his NHL debut for the Penguins tonight in Tampa. The 21-year-old center has five goals and 11 assists in 39 AHL games this season.

    “Sunny’s a pretty solid two-way player,” coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Tribune-Review.

    “I don’t think he’s going to dazzle you with flashy plays, but I think he’s a guy who plays the game the right way. He’s hard to play against because of his size. He’s got a long reach, and he’s got a good stick.”

    Sundqvist was selected 81st overall by the Pens in 2012. He’ll become the fourth player out of that Pittsburgh draft class to make his NHL debut, after Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.

    Veteran Matt Cullen will replace Malkin on the second line, skating with wingers Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.

    Related: Nick Bonino out ‘at least a month’ with hand injury