At ten points out of the 8th seed in the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks are within striking distance of playoff contention. The month of February will have a lot to say about the Ducks’ playoff fate and whether or not they can complete yet another second season comeback. A big part of the reason this month is so pivotal is due to the fact that after Wednesday’s matchup against Carolina, the
Ducks play nine of their next ten games away from Honda Center.
A daunting task for any team, but particularly the Ducks as they are working to keep their winning pace alive, having lost only twice in regulation dating back to last year.
At 6-11-6 the Ducks are the third worst road team in the league, although an interesting stat to consider is that ten of those regulation road losses came before December 19th. Since that date the team has lost only once in regulation on the road. It will be interesting to see which Anaheim team shows up for this stretch of games that will take them through the Midwest and all along the Atlantic Coast. If you include the Chicago game at home on the 26th, the schedule builds out like this:
Detroit Redwings – Friday the 10th
Columbus Blue Jackets – Sunday the 12th
Minnesota Wild – Tuesday the 14th
Pittsburgh Penguins – Wednesday the 15th
New Jersey Devils – Friday the 17th
Florida Panthers – Sunday the 19th
Tampa Bay Lighting – Tuesday the 21st
Carolina Hurricanes – Thursday the 23rd
Chicago Blackhawks – Sunday the 26th (at home)
Colorado Avalanche – Sunday the 27th
These ten games will likely determine the fate of Anaheim’s entire season, as the team can’t afford to even go .500 during this trip. The Ducks simply must win the bulk of these games, or at worst, avoid regulation losses if they have any shot at making a playoff push in March. Overtime losses will be less of an issue against Eastern Conference teams, though the Ducks still need the points, and anything below the .700 mark is going to be too little too late. The likelihood is that Anaheim will be desperate enough to win more than five of these games; however the odds of actually making up ground in the standings under those circumstances aren’t quite as good. Here are my predictions for the ten game stretch.
The Ducks will split the first two games against the best and worst team in the league. Although not the way you might expect. The Ducks will push Detroit to overtime but ultimately give up the second point to a more powerful Red Wings team that hasn’t been making a habit of losing after the third period (only 2 overtime losses this year). Anaheim won’t lose to the Columbus Blue Jackets twice in a row, and will take three of the possible four points in the first two games.
Minnesota is one of the teams Anaheim needs to chase in order to contend for a playoff spot. Currently the Wild hold the 8th spot in the Western Conference. While this game will likely be close, Anaheim won’t have enough gas in the tank to knock off the Wild who will be in the middle of a four game home-stand. Traveling to Pittsburgh for a game the next day won’t make matters any better for the Ducks as the Penguins likewise will be on the third of a three game home-stand. If the Ducks can score early and eliminate the Penguins home ice advantage they’ll have a shot. However it’s hard to imagine, that with such a difficult schedule, the Ducks will be able to get the jump on a much more powerful and rested Penguins team. Two regulation losses in a row will understandably be a momentum killer, especially during such a steep road trip.
Anaheim will lose again to New Jersey in regulation landing them at 1-3-1 during the first half of their road trip. True to form, the Ducks will continue to be a much better second half team.
Their remaining three road games before coming home will afford them two regulation wins against Florida and Tampa Bay and will wrap up with an overtime loss to a desperate a desperate Carolina team. At an even 3-3-2 the Ducks will capture momentum at home against a high flying Blackhawks team and win a hard fought game in regulation. Anaheim will then cap off the ten game stretch with a statement win over the Colorado Avalanche again proving why J.S. Giguere is no longer playing in Anaheim.
Final Record: 5-3-2
Though the Ducks will show their resilience under Bruce Boudreau, this performance, though very respectable, won’t be enough to get them into the playoffs. While its fun to speculate, my scenario is admittedly generous and optimistic, and would have to be exceeded in order to keep pace with the rest of the Western Conference. With Anaheim at 48 points, most playoff teams have compiled 60 or better. The Ducks need to be past that mark long before the end of February, and 10 or 12 points just won’t be enough.
There’s no doubt that the Boudreau era has created a stronger Ducks team and has given new life to the franchise. However, it will likely not be enough to get Anaheim into the playoffs this season, and will leave fans looking ahead to next year hoping to find the Ducks once again on the inside of the Western Conference playoff battle.