Ducks’ injury problems could derail hot streak

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The Anaheim Ducks have really been heating up lately, grabbing six wins in their last seven games. A painfully familiar problem could derail all of that promise, however, as injuries are once again mounting.

The Ducks provided two unfortunate updates on Tuesday:

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Ryan Miller: The superb backup suffered an MCL sprain during Sunday’s wild 6-5 shootout win against the Devils. His recovery window is estimated at six weeks, while they’ll evaluate the veteran goalie once more in two weeks.

As you can note from this breakdown from Anaheim’s five-game winning streak, much of the Ducks’ success came from an impeccable goalie duo of Miller and John Gibson. Gibson is the Vezina-level workhorse, but don’t count out Miller’s contributions. He’s continued a so-far-phenomenal run with the Ducks, managing a .922 save percentage in 10 games this season (with four goals allowed against New Jersey hurting his numbers more than a bit).

Anaheim did get at least one bit of good luck here, relatively speaking. The Ducks were able to pluck an experienced goalie in Chad Johnson off of waivers, as they took him off of the St. Louis Blues’ hands. His former Bengals WR namesake celebrated the occasion:

Johnson’s off to a lousy start in 2018-19 (.884 save percentage in 10 games), and really struggled with the Calgary Flames last season. Even so, his .909 career save percentage is still pretty good for a journeyman backup, especially since the Ducks didn’t need to cough up any assets to give him a try.

None of this makes Miller’s loss good news, yet there’s at least a chance that Johnson could hold down the fort whenever Gibson needs a breather.

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Rickard Rakell: the Ducks didn’t provide a timetable for the winger’s return, labeling his injury as a sprained ankle.

The Athletic’s Eric Stephens reports that Rakell was wearing a protective boot this weekend:

Despite being out since Dec. 5, Rakell stands as the Ducks’ second-highest scorer (20 points in 30 games), trailing only Ryan Getzlaf.

While that 6-5 shootout win against the Devils shows that Anaheim can fill the net from time to time (pauses for own-goal jokes), they’ve generally been scoring just enough to win lately. With that in mind, Rakell’s injury really stings, especially if Nick Ritchie and Pontus Aberg start to cool off.

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To review, Miller and Rakell join a growing list of injured Ducks. Corey Perry and Cam Fowler are recovering from significant issues that required surgeries. Patrick Eaves is also dealing with injury/health issues, and it’s fair to wonder how often Ryan Kesler is truly at full-strength.

At the moment, the Ducks are ranked third in the Pacific Division with 37 points in 32 games, as the Sharks have the same 16-11-5 record but own an edge in ROW (16 to 13). They’ll close their current homestand out on Wednesday, then head out on the road for six straight away games, mostly against Eastern Conference teams:

Wed, Dec. 12: vs. Dallas
Sat, Dec. 15: @ Columbus
Mon, Dec. 17: @ Pittsburgh
Tue, Dec. 18: @ Rangers
Thu, Dec. 20: @ Boston
Sat, Dec. 22: @ Buffalo
Thu, Dec. 27: @ San Jose

It hasn’t always been pretty for the Ducks, but credit them for fighting through injuries. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll need to keep doing so.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Seattle ticket waiting list grows; U.S. WJC camp roster

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, Bob McKenzie was on Wednesday Night Hockey discussing potential general managers for the new Seattle NHL franchise.

• Ground has been broken on the Seattle arena rebuild and more than 5,000 people have been added to the season-ticket holder waiting list. [NHL.com]

• The Vegas Golden Knights offer some advice for the NHL Seattle franchise. [Las Vegas Sun]

• The great Chris Peters has a player-by-player breakdown of the U.S. World Junior Championship camp roster. [United States of Hockey]

• Some good and bad injury news for the Anaheim Ducks. Patrick Eaves is out indefinitely with a broken rib and Cam Fowler could be back next month. [OC Register]

• When pointing out the current problems with the New Jersey Devils, don’t look at Taylor Hall. [Pucks and Pitchforks]

• What changes should the Boston Bruins make right now? [WEEI]

• How much longer will Adin Hill be the man in net for the Arizona Coyotes? [Arizona Republic]

• It’s been quite an NHL journey so far for Anthony Duclair. Here’s what he’s learned at each of his four stops. [ESPN]

• When it comes to NHL bobbleheads, the San Jose Sharks know what their fans want. [Fear the Fin]

• Talking shot quality and quantity about Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders. [Lighthouse Hockey]

• The confidence of the Columbus Blue Jackets is growing. [1st Ohio Battery]

• Daniel Walcott of the Tampa Bay Lightning got to watch as his dad did quite well on “Dragon’s Den.” [Color of Hockey]

• “Ice Hockey UK have confirmed that Team GB will take part in a triangular tournament with Hungary and Italy, as well as facing KHL sides Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and Dinamo Riga, as part of their preparations for the 2019 IIHF World Championships.” [One Puck Short]

• Finally, Doc got to meet Barclay the service dog last night. For more on Barclay, click here.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Golden Knights look to get back on track vs. Ducks

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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.

Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with a special on-site edition of NHL Live outside of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones, and NHL insider Darren Dreger. John Forslund (play-by-play), Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) and Roenick (reporter) will call Ducks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

After a year away, Ducks’ Eaves ‘had a blast’ in NHL return

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It had been 384 days since Patrick Eaves last took an NHL shift, but the significance of him hopping over the boards Thursday night in Anaheim didn’t register with him at first. When the Ducks forward, who last played a game on Oct. 13, 2017, took his first two shifts, he received an extended ovation, which at first led him to believe a fight had broken out somewhere on the ice.

After overcoming effects of a post-viral syndrome, which was originally thought to be Guillain-Barré syndrome, that caused him to miss all but two games in 2017-18, and then undergoing shoulder surgery in the spring, Eaves was back in the lineup for Anaheim’s 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.

With his wife and children in the Honda Center stands, Eaves played a little over 10 minutes in the loss, a small bright spot for a team that had just lost its seventh straight game.

“It’s been a while. It was kind of everything (emotions wise),” Eaves said afterward. “It was a long road to get back here and there’s a ton of people that helped out. It was pretty cool to see all their hard work getting me back out there.”

As much as he wants to be up to speed already after missing over a year, Eaves knows it’s going to take time for him to re-adjust to the tempo of the NHL. He’s been skating for a while and started practicing with his teammates a few weeks ago, but game action is a much different pace.

“I felt better every shift,” he said. “You can’t simulate that game speed anywhere so you got to go out there and do it.”

Joining a team mired in a slump can’t be fun, but if Eaves is able to regain the form that has allowed him to hit double digits in goals four times since the 2014-15 NHL season, that will play a role in Anaheim’s attempt to turn things around. 

“It was exciting to be out there, but I want to contribute and be a positive for the team,” Eaves said.

Holding himself to a high standard of play, he knows that his next challenge is bringing back the old Patrick Eaves. In the meantime, he’s happy to finally be playing hockey again after a hellish year.

“I had a blast out there,” he said.

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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.

PHT Roundtable: Early-season surprises, stand-out stats

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1. Carolina, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago and Anaheim are off to surprise starts this season. Which team(s) do you see being able to maintain that success throughout this season and why?

SEAN: I can see teams like Carolina and Anaheim cooling off, but not to a degree like Ottawa or Montreal where they’ll fall way to the back of the pack. Then there’s Chicago, who now with Corey Crawford back, stand to be able to keep above water the rest of the season. Alex DeBrincat, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will do what they do and produce up front. It’ll be a matter of secondary scoring helping out. If Crawford stays healthy and regains the form that made him a Vezina Trophy candidate before suffering a concussion last December, the Blackhawks can find a way back to the playoffs.

JAMES: While the threat of bad goaltending looms like Michael Myers around Halloween, the Hurricanes’ deep defense and young offense gives them a great chance to break their interminable playoff drought. The Blackhawks and Ducks have a strong chance to at least be in the West bubble picture if they get some better health luck (even as Jonathan Toews’ shooting luck is certain to cool off at least a bit). Montreal and Ottawa? No, sorry, but at least the Habs might be fun to watch.

ADAM: Off the top of my head I would say most likely Carolina or Anaheim and maybe — MAYBE — Chicago. Anaheim’s hot start seems like it is entirely based off of John Gibson‘s play, and it pretty much is. But he is an elite goalie that can carry a team and they are going to start getting some of their forwards back at some point, at least as far as Ryan Getzlaf and Ondrej Kase are concerned. That will help. Every year I get fooled and sucked in by Carolina but I really think they have some of the right pieces in place, and that defense is pretty legit. It all depends on what sort of goaltending they get. Speaking of, if Corey Crawford comes back healthy and plays well he could be a huge difference-maker for Chicago. They have had a lot of things go their way in the early going, but Crawford can be a game-changer and Jonathan Toews looks like he might be back on track offensively. Montreal and Ottawa are nice early season stories, but I just do not see how either way sustains it.

JOEY: I think the Ducks can keep this rolling. First, John Gibson has arguably been the best goalie in the NHL from the start of the season. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t be dominant more often than not. Secondly, they’ve been able to have success while dealing with a lot of injuries. Ryan Getzlaf, Ondrej Kase, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves have all missed time early on. At some point, they’re going to start getting healthier which should make them better. The Ducks are in one of the tougher divisions, so they’ll be battling for positioning on a nightly basis, but there’s no reason to think that they can’t keep winning.

SCOTT: Carolina because they have a potent offense that seems to be able to drive possession and put up a pile of shots. That’s a recipe for scoring goals and scoring goals wins games. Their defense seems much improved and if they can get some league average goaltending, book that ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anaheim is the other team, and John Gibsons is a big reason for that. He’s been nothing short of stellar and helps Anaheim pull out some victories when the number of injuries they had might suggest they shouldn’t be winning. And now they’re beginning to get healthy, with names like Getzlaf, Kase, Perry and Kesler all making their way back into the fold. Sure, some of their stars are aging, but there’s still a bevy of talent there to propel them along.

2. What’s the most surprising player/team stat to you so far?

SEAN: Everything Connor McDavid is doing so far this season. I know we shouldn’t be surprised given his all-world talent, but it’s incredible to watch him have an impact on just about every Oilers goal. Edmonton has scored 13 goals through five games and McDavid has been involved in 11 of them with four goals and seven assists. It’s truly maddening to see the Oilers fail to build around him. Let’s hope this trend doesn’t continue as he continues racking up Hart and Art Ross Trophies.

JAMES: Look, the Canadiens boast some nice talent, but their hot start is quite surprising. More than the respectable record is the sheer brilliance of their early play. Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Blues, Montreal averaged almost 10 more shots on goal than they’ve allowed so far (36 vs. 26.6). In other words, their strong start isn’t just a matter of dumb luck.

(I still think they’ll miss the playoffs, though.)

ADAM: Probably the fact that Arizona is near the top of the league in shots on goal per game but somehow has still only scored three total goals (as of Thursday) and has not scored a single one at even-strength. How is that even possible? Even if they were near the bottom of the league in shots you would expect more than three goals in five games, even from a bad team. But to put that many pucks on net and still not score is just incredible. They have also been really good defensively so far, both in terms of shots against and goals against. So, like, there is some positive stuff happening there but the offense just quite literally cannot buy a goal right now. It is remarkable.

JOEY: I knew Sebastian Aho was a talented player, but I never expected him to get off to this kind of start. Only Auston Matthews, Patrice Bergeron and Morgan Rielly have collected more points than Aho, who has 12 points in seven games. The ‘Canes have desperately needed a forward to step in and become a go-to guy and it looks like they finally have that person in place. The 21-year-old won’t hit the 141 points he’s currently on pace to score, but he’s off to a really promising start.

As far as team stats go, how about that Sharks power play that’s clicking at 9.5 percent? Once they acquired Erik Karlsson from the Senators, most people assumed that they’d be clicking at an insane rate. That hasn’t been the case just yet. Of course, it’s nothing to be alarmed about if you’re a fan of the Sharks because they’re six games into their season. It’s only a matter of time before they figure out. With Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Logan Couture and Karlsson on the roster, there’s no reason to think that this power play will continue slumping like it is right now.

SCOTT: New Jersey’s defense and goaltending is very good. Keith Kinkaid has allowed just eight goals in five starts this season. He’s already got two shutouts (and they weren’t against Arizona, either — both came against respectable offenses in Washington and Dallas). He’s arguably the best goalie in the NHL at the moment and I never expected to say that through the first few weeks of the season or, really, ever.

An honorable mention here goes to Carolina. I mentioned them in the first question and they deserve another here. They’re averaging 42 shots a game. A. That’s silly. B. It’s the best in the NHL. And they’re only allowing 25 against, second fewest. It’s no wonder that they’re pacing the Metropolitan Division early on in the season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule