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It’s Anaheim Ducks day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Anaheim Ducks.

2017-18
44-25-13, 101 pts. (2nd, Pacific Division; 5th, Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-0 vs. San Jose Sharks, first round

IN:
Brian Gibbons
Andrej Sustr
Luke Schenn
Carter Rowney

OUT:
Francois Beauchemin
Reto Berra
Jared Boll
J.T. Brown
Derek Grant

RE-SIGNED:
Adam Henrique
Kale Kossila
Brandon Montour

A fifth straight 100-point season ended with a thud when the Ducks were swept out of the first round by the Sharks. That prompted general manager Bob Murray to say there would be changes before the 2018-19 campaign began, but as we arrive in the final month of summer, these Ducks have a pretty similar look to the Ducks of last season.

The biggest changes for the Ducks when the puck drops in October could be the return of Patrick Eaves and the absence of Ryan Kesler. Eaves missed all but two games last season dealing with post-viral syndrome. Kesler, meanwhile, played only 44 games and all four playoff games while battling through injury. In May, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that there was a chance the 33-year-old forward would sit out the entire ’18-19 season.

“I’m more confident that Patrick Eaves is going to play for the full season than I am of Ryan Kesler at the moment, although ‘Kes’ says he’s going to be fine,” Murray told season-ticket holders during an event last month via the Orange County Register.

[Under PressureBuilding Off a BreakthroughThree Questions]

Injuries down the middle early on forced Murray to trade defenseman Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Henrique. He would settle in nicely and find chemistry with linemates Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase. His addition would help an offense that needed some assistance as veterans Ryan Getzlaf (11 goals) and Corey Perry (49 points) were again among the team’s scoring leaders, but posted some of their lowest numbers of the past few seasons. Meanwhile, Rickard Rakell had another career season (34 goals, 69 points) and continued to show what a bargain ($3,789,444 AAV through 2021-22) he is around the NHL.

Josh Manson (37 points) and Brandon Montour (9 goals) made huge strides on the blue line, aiding Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm on the back end. Then there was John Gibson, who put himself into the Vezina Trophy conversation. With four shutouts and a .927 even strength save percentage, the 25-year-old has set himself up for a hefty pay raise should he continue his strong play. He’s set to become a restricted free agent next summer.

Prospect Pool

• Sam Steel, C, 20 – Regina (WHL) – 2016 first-round pick

In 54 games last season captaining the Pats, Steel led the team in scoring with 83 points and finished second with 33 goals. He led Regina to the Memorial Cup Final and would earn MVP honors with 13 points in five games. After being one of the final cuts for Canada’s World Junior Championship team two years ago, he made the roster for this past season’s tournament in Buffalo, scoring four goals and recording nine points in seven games.

Troy Terry, C, 20 – Denver (NCAA) – 2015 fifth-round pick

The 2018-18 season was an adventurous one for Terry. His college season with Denver was interrupted when he got the opportunity to represent the U.S. at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games. After he returned, he finished his collegiate career before joining the Ducks for two games. Averaging 1.3 points per game in his final two seasons with the Pioneers, Terry will battle for one of the final roster spots on the Ducks in training camp, but he may be better served playing regular minutes in the AHL at first.

• Max Jones, LW, 20 – Kingston (OHL) – 2016 first-round pick

Jones spent a third season back in junior in ’17-18 and while production dropped (24 points) after an injury-plagued year, he did curtail his time in the penalty box as he adjusted to a mid-season trade from London. He’ll get another shot to stick with the Ducks roster during training camp

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.