NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
No team has been as consistently inconsistent as the Ducks. They’ve gone through some positive stretches, but they’ve also had to endure a seven-game losing skid already.
Like Vegas, the Ducks have also been hit hard by the injury bug. Ondrej Kase, who returned to the lineup on Monday, missed the first 18 games of the season, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves have also missed a significant amount of time, and they also started the season without Ryan Kesler. They also lost Cam Fowler in the third period of Monday’s win against Nashville (he’s day-to-day).
The fact that they’re tied for a Wild Card spot (Colorado has two games in hand) is pretty impressive when you consider they had a long losing streak and they’ve been without key figures all season. So, how have they been able to keep their season on the rails? Simple, it’s because of John Gibson.
The 25-year-old has been extraordinary between the pipes for Anaheim. His 6-6-3 record and his 2.47 goals-against-average don’t do him justice, but his .931 save percentage shows just how efficient he’s been.
A win over the Golden Knights would allow the Ducks to string together back-to-back victories for the first time Oct. 14 and Oct. 17.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully something we can build off.” Gibson said after Monday’s shootout win over Nashville. “…It seems like we’ve been able to win one here and there, but not go on a run. Hopefully we can start stringing some together, take this as a stepping stone and build from it.”
What a difference a year makes for Vegas. At this time last year, the Golden Knights were the talk of the NHL because of how dominant they were. But as of right now, they’re closer to the bottom of the Pacific Division than they are the top.
Vegas has accumulated just 15 points in 18 games, which means only the Los Angeles Kings (11) are below them in the conference standings. Some of the magic seems to have worn off from last season, but it’s also important to note that they’ve dealt with some key absences. Paul Stastny (injured), Nate Schmidt (suspended), and now Erik Haula (injured) won’t be available for this game. The good news, is that Schmidt only has two games left to serve.
“You look at how our team is playing and what we did last year, playing fast was our No. 1 thing,” Schmidt said. “I think that’s something that we haven’t done as well lately. I really think that’s what it comes down to. When you’re playing fast, you have effort, you have guys buying in, you have discipline and you have all those other things. It is the underlying factor right now. If we get back to playing fast, the other things will take care of themselves.”
Max Pacioretty, who was the team’s biggest off-season acquisition, has gotten off to a rocky start. The 29-year-old has just two goals and no assists in his first 14 games as a Golden Knight. That’s not what they expected when they gave up Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and a second-round draft pick for him right before training camp. Something has to give with Pacioretty at some point.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.