Corey Perry

Ducks continue to hang around the playoff hunt

If you believe some people around the Anaheim Ducks, tonight is a “must-win” game for the Ducks against the St. Louis Blues at Honda Center. Win and they keep pace with the Peloton in the West—lose and the odds become even more daunting. Such is life in March of a hotly contested playoff race in the NHL.

It’s interesting in that of all the teams competing for the last few playoff spots, the Ducks seem to be flying under the radar. Maybe it’s because they got off to such a rough start that some people wrote them off way back in October. Maybe it’s because they’re holding down the last place spot in the Pacific Division. Maybe it’s because their all-star goaltender that is a huge part of their team is still out of the lineup and no one knows when he’s going to return. Whatever the reason, the Ducks are still right in the thick of the playoff race and no one seems to be talking about it.

Going into the night, the Ducks are two points out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They have a game in hand on the 9th place Predators and hold 3 games in hand on the 8th place Calgary Flames. They are 5-2 over their last 7 games including a recent 4-1 homestand. You’d think there would be a little more buzz around a team thriving at this time of year, but the enthusiasm may be taking a little longer to catch on considering the recent stretch is on the heels of a 5-game losing streak.

Aside from a game against Colorado later this month, every game is against a team in the playoff hunt. The good side is if they win, they’ll be hurting their competitors. The bad part is that they better not lose many games. A couple losses against the wrong teams in the standings could make the mountain just that much tougher to climb. Including tonight’s game against the Blues, here are the opponents the Ducks will face down the stretch.

Kings (3 games)
Flames (2)
Stars (2)
Sharks (2)
Blues
Predators
Blackhawks
Avalanche

Head coach Randy Carlyle knows they’ll need to beat the teams in front of them for any chance at the playoffs.

“When you’re trying to play catch up, that’s the only way you’re going to catch them…

“There (are) no ifs, ands or buts, if we win our fair share of games against the teams that are around us that only bodes well for our chances of making the playoffs.”

 

The statistics for the Ducks are all over the place—but don’t paint the most promising picture. Their -7 goal differential is not a good sign. Usually that’s a good indicator of who will make the playoffs and who won’t—so the Nashville Predators and their +14 would lead people to believe they are the team that could sneak into the final playoff spot.

Aside from that, they’re 27th in the league with 28.5 shots per game. Equally as alarming are the shots they’re allowing every game: 25th in shots allowed per game with 32.3. Put those together and they’re the 3rd worst team when it comes to shots for vs.shots against. To put it in perspective, the only teams who are worse are the Wild and the Oilers. One of those teams has been fading and the other has been looking at the draft for 3 months. That’s not exactly the type of company any team wants to keep at this time of year.

Predictably, they are 25th in the NHL when it comes to 5-on-5 play. But just because they’re struggling as a whole at even strength doesn’t mean they have a hard time putting the puck in the net. They have leaned heavily on their 4th best power play which is clicking at a 21.7% rate. Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, and Bobby Ryan are all in the top 21 in NHL scoring. The only other teams that can claim that kind of high-end scoring are the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Dallas Stars (all playoff teams as of writing). In fact, the Ducks are the only team that has FIVE players with at least 50 points on the year. Unfortunately, that’s where their scoring ends. Besides the big 5, only one other player has more than 30 points on the season.

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges they are going to need better balance if they want to succeed down the stretch.

“It’s the responsibility of some other people in our lineup to make more of a contribution,” Carlyle said. “As we go down the stretch, that is what teams are made up of. It’s not always your main guys who are getting the points and making a difference for you. We know in order for us to have success, everybody has to be able to accountable, both on the offensive and defensive side of the puck.”

 

It’s the lack of balance that hurts when Carlyle can’t get the match-ups he wants when he’s on the road. Their 21-12-2 record at home is one of the best in the West—however; their 16-15-3 record away from Honda Center is one of the worst. There’s no questioning that they are a different team at home—they’ll need to make the most of those 6 home games in their last 13.

More important than the concerning road record or lack of depth is the cloud of uncertainty hanging around the goaltending situation. Jonas Hiller’s absence with his mysterious vertigo-like symptoms certainly isn’t giving the Ducks any additional hope. But since making his way to the left coast, Dan Ellis has shown to be a much better goaltender than he did in Tampa Bay for the Lightning. He’s 5-2-1 with an average 2.54 goals against average and pedestrian .902 save percentage. Clearly he’s not going to unseat Jonas Hiller as the goaltender of the future anytime soon. But when you compare his play to that of Curtis McElhinney earlier in the year (and Timo Pielmeier’s 2 period implosion), a guy who can give the Ducks a consistent chance to win is an upgrade over the previous alternatives. This just in: trying to replace an all-star goaltender is difficult for a team that depends on their goaltender to play like an all-star every night.

Tonight’s game against the Blues will tell us a lot about what we can expect from the Ducks down the stretch. Starting tonight, the Ducks really hold their destiny in their own hands. Beat the rivals they’ll face over the next month and they’ll be selling playoff tickets in Anaheim. But a few consecutive losses against those teams and tee times in Pelican Hill are going to start filling up in a hurry.

Burmistrov expecting ‘weird, awkward’ return to Winnipeg

Alexander Burmistrov
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It’s been two weeks since the Coyotes claimed Alexander Burmistrov off waivers from the Jets but, because of visa issues, tonight will be just Burmistrov’s second game in an Arizona uniform.

And it’ll be in Winnipeg, against his former team.

“It’s going to be a special night,” Burmistrov said, per NHL.com. “I’m sure it’s going to be weird, awkward, seeing your ex-teammates skating on the other side in the warmup.”

It’s been a weird, awkward season for the 25-year-old Russian. After appearing in 81 games last year — racking up a career-high 21 points — he became an afterthought in Winnipeg, often sitting as a (frustrated) healthy scratch.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice acknowledged the role Burmistrov wanted — something in the top-9 — probably wasn’t going to happen in Winnipeg, so the club set about letting him get a fresh start elsewhere.

Arizona was happy to grab him.

“[Burmistrov’s] a guy our scouts for a long time have identified as someone they think has got more potential than what he’s shown,” GM John Chayka said shortly after the waiver claim, per the Coyotes website. “(Claiming him) was unanimous across the board with our scouts, which is actually fairly rare.”

Burmistrov played a fairly significant role in his first game with the Coyotes. He received just under 18 minutes of ice time and finished with an assist in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Oilers, getting the primary helper on Radim Vrbata‘s power-play goal.

Talbot embracing busy workload with the Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Connor McDavid #97 and goaltender Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate their victory against the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game is the final game the Oilers will play at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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At some point, Cam Talbot will get the night off to sit on the bench and watch somebody else tend goal for the Edmonton Oilers.

But it won’t be tonight when his Oilers host Florida. Talbot will make his fifth start in the last nine days. No NHL goalie has played more minutes (2,459) than he has this season. No goalie has made more saves (1,115), either.

“This is what you work your whole career towards,” Talbot told reporters today. “I was working my butt off day in, day out, in New York, hoping to get this opportunity at some point behind (Henrik Lundqvist). And Edmonton, I was lucky enough (they gave) me an opportunity last year. You’ve just got to be ready for it when you get it. … I feel great doing it.”

He’s been playing pretty great, too. The 29-year-old is 23-12-6 with a .918 save percentage. He’s won his last three starts while allowing just four goals combined.

And that’s partly why Todd McLellan keeps running Talbot out there — the head coach is riding the hot hand.

The other part relates to the Oilers’ backup. It’s currently Laurent Brossoit, a 23-year-old with just six games of NHL experience. Brossoit was called up from the AHL to replace Jonas Gustavsson, who simply wasn’t getting the job done as Edmonton’s No. 2.

The Oilers, you may have heard, haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade. They desperately want to break that drought, and Talbot has helped put them on pace to do it.

Still, this situation will be worth monitoring. Talbot has never started more than 53 games in an NHL season, and he’s already started 41 in 2016-17. As great as he feels today, there’s absolutely a risk that fatigue sets in down the stretch.

At least the Oilers have the All-Star break and their bye week (Feb. 6-10) on the horizon. Talbot wasn’t selected to participate in Los Angeles later this month; Mike Smith and Martin Jones will represent the Pacific Division instead.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Brossoit is 0-4-1 with an .873 save percentage in those six games with the big club. It’s possible the youngster could start Friday at home to Nashville, as the Oilers also play Saturday in Calgary on Hockey Night in Canada.

Talbot has been busy, but he’s yet to play on consecutive days this season.

The 10 busiest goalies this season

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Wild’s Brodin out ‘weeks’ with hand injury

Minnesota Wild v Anaheim Ducks
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Minnesota’s been very fortunate in the health department this season — a whopping 11 players have appeared in all 43 games — but that changed on Wednesday, as GM Chuck Fletcher announced d-man Jonas Brodin would be out “weeks” with a hand injury.

Brodin was hurt in Tuesday’s loss to the Devils, finishing with just 9:23 TOI. It’s a significant loss — the Swedish rearguard was one of the guys that had appeared in every contest, averaging 19:47 per night.

Per Russo, Nate Prosser is expected to fill the Brodin void. Prosser has been in and out of the lineup this year — though mostly out — appearing in 17 contests while getting just over 13 minutes per.

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau insisted the club would take the Brodin injury in stride.

“Good teams persevere,” he said, per the Wild’s Twitter account. “We don’t fold like an accordion.”

Jeff Skinner has some advice for Grayson Allen

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 01:  Jeff Skinner #53 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 1, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Hurricanes defeated the Devils 3-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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There was a time that Carolina forward Jeff Skinner — now at the ripe ol’ age of 24 — was an emotional, hyper-competitive young buck earning himself a reputation across the NHL.

OK, not really.

But Skinner was suspended once, back in 2012, for kicking then-Blues forward Scott Nichol.

Given the nature of the suspension — look, you just don’t see a lot of kicking infractions — and the fact Skinner had been warned the day prior for slew-footing Dmitry Orlov, there was a bit of history.

And in Carolina, if you’ve got a history with tripping-related offenses, you’re probably going to be asked about Grayson Allen.

From the News & Observer:

Allen, after twice tripping players in ACC games last season and receiving a reprimand from the league, said before this season that he had learned a hard lesson. He said the incidents were embarrassing for him, his family and the school.

Then, it happened again. In a Dec. 22 game in Greensboro, Allen tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana as Santa Ana attempted to drive the baseline, kicking out his right leg. [Duke University head coach Mike] Krzyzewski suspended Allen for one game.

Skinner’s suspension in 2012 is his only one. He’s now 24, a veteran player.

“Experience helps because you’ve seen situations and you put yourself in better spots and you’re able to react to situations better,” Skinner said.

Skinner realizes the scrutiny is intense, especially for star players. There’s always that spotlight, especially in the ACC.

“I know one thing, UNC, Duke and N.C. State basketball gets a lot of media attention,” Skinner said. “There’s a lot of pressure on those guys at a young age.”

The genesis of Skinner’s advice was “learn from your mistakes,” and “the more you experience, the better you’ll react to things.” And in that regard, he’s probably a guy worth listening to — he broke into the NHL at 18 and now, even though he’s only 24, is veteran of seven seasons and nearly 500 games played. Discipline hasn’t been much of a problem since the aforementioned Nichol and Orlov incidents.

He has, however, been whistled for two tripping penalties this season. Guess some habits die hard.

Biggest takeaway from all this, though, could be that Skinner’s in the midst of a career campaign. With 35 points through 43 games he’s on pace for a personal high of 65, which would be the most he’s scored since his rookie year.