The Anaheim Ducks begin a five-game road trip tonight that could end with a big increase in the separation between where they currently reside in the Western Conference standings and a playoff spot.
Currently two points out of a wild card spot and three points behind the Calgary Flames for the third seed in the Pacific Division, the Ducks will face the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights before returning home to Honda Center next Wednesday. They’ll do so with a lineup that’s battered and missing Patrick Eaves, Ryan Getzlaf, Ondrej Kase, Ryan Kesler and now Rickard Rakell, who combined for over 80 goals last season.
How dinged up have the Ducks been? They’re by far the NHL leaders in the man-games lost category, as ManGamesLost.com shows:
The already offensively-challenged Ducks will see Derek Grant and Chris Wagner as their top two centermen as the roster heals. The pair have 17 career goals. That will put some added pressure on a blue line that’s provided 15 of their 62 goals this season.
“We know we’ve stressed our lineup to our bare bones here,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said over the weekend via the LA Times. “The compete level and the structure and our work ethic and our track, our forecheck, all those were positives for our hockey club. And now we have to find a way to maintain that as we play more games on this road trip.”
Carlyle isn’t using injuries as an excuse for his team’s sluggish start — all teams miss key players at points during an 82-game schedule. But certainly the specific personnel missing from the Ducks’ lineup explains how the first 23 games have gone. John Gibson (.936 even strength save percentage in November) and Ryan Miller (.953 ESSV in November) have done their part in helping Anaheim take points from 7 of their 12 games this month and they’ll need to continue to be backbones for this team to survive a road trip against teams currently sitting in playoff spots.
Points collected now will be huge once the Ducks return to full health.
“It’s tight right now, as you can see, really tight,” said defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “You keep dropping, you’re right at the very bottom. A few points and a win or two and you’re right at the top. So you want to be in the thick of things. You don’t want to be swaying too far down. It’s important to get points.”