NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. Ducks-Kings stream coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
The Ducks are back just six points from the Colorado Avalanche and a playoff spot in the West Division.
That, of course, does not paint a complete picture. Losers of nine straight until Saturday, the Ducks have played at least three more games in the West than every playoff team except the Blues, who lead them by 10 points in second place. They are 2-5-3 in their last 10, and that’s after two consecutive wins.
It’s too early to say the Ducks have no shot, but, realistically a team on the rebuild is going to look to sell at the April NHL Trade Deadline. A playoff spot would be a happy accident.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some really fun trends to watch, especially with the young Ducks.
Max Comtois leads the squad with nine goals and has been the biggest positive to emerge from what might be a lost season. Trevor Zegras, one of the top prospects in the game, has dazzled when he’s been out there since being called up two weeks ago.
Max Comtois still really struggles defensively, but he's become a plus-offensive contributor beyond his own production: pic.twitter.com/46GoAaEjKS
— Félix Sicard (@Felix_Sicard) March 1, 2021
Scoring has been Anaheim’s downfall all season. They’ve dropped a bunch of tight games without the ability to extend their lead; in a league-high 18 one-goal games, they are just 5-7-6.
Despite scoring picking up lately — notably in the win over the Avs over the weekend and Monday’s six-goal performance to beat the Kings — the Ducks still rank 30th out of the league’s 31 clubs in goals per game at 21.16.
They are also 28th on the power play, something they’ve hoped might pick up with more Zegras minutes on the man advantage. He’s still a 19-year-old rookie, though, and not going to solve every issue over night.
When the scoring picks up, though, like it has in recent games, the young players have excelled. Zegras’ pass in overtime on Adam Henrique‘s game winner on Monday looked a lot like what Ducks fans are hoping he can bring, for example. Comtois had three assists, and has already passed his career-high season points total from a year ago.
The 23-year-old Troy Terry already matched his four goals from last season in just 21 games. He’ll likely exceed his 15 points from a season ago. Isac Lundeström netted a hat trick last week as well.
So the pieces are there for a long-term offensive plan. It might just not come together this year.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat anything,” general manager Bob Murray said to reporters earlier this week. “Our record is not good enough. I expected to be better and we’re not. There’s no sugar-coating it.”
Even in Monday’s win, they blew a two-goal lead in the third period to force overtime, which the Ducks won, but it’s still playing with fire. All six goals on Monday were tallied by players 27 or older, but the Comtois and Zegras of the world were setting them up. Perhaps it was a bit less pressure than has already been put on them, too.
The Ducks are 26 games in and time is running out to turn things around quickly this season. That might be fine; this is a long-term project. Zegras is going to be there for a while, and so is Comtois and Steel and Isac Lundeström. In net, John Gibson, their backbone, turns 28 in July and is under contract long term.
There’s room to keep growing. The first step is eeking out more of those one-goal games, not surrendering leads and letting the offense extend when they have them.
Easier said than done, but this is a learning experience type of year.