The Ducks won the possession battle and limited the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs attack to one goal.
They’re in a rut, though, and scratching out wins isn’t easy right now. Even when the Ducks deliver a fine performance like this one Friday at Honda Center, it isn’t enough. And they’re left to wonder what it will take to save the season before it’s too late.
The Ducks collected one point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Leafs, but this was no moral victory. The club played well enough to win — at least the Ducks believed so.
It’s yet another frustrating setback for a Ducks squad that is searching for answers on both sides of the ice, but especially on offense where they ranked 30th in the NHL (2.10 goals per game entering Friday).
Coach Randy Carlyle’s group owns just three wins in its last 14 games, and with a quarter of the season now expired, the team is running out of chances to right the ship.
“We had the opportunities to win this game ... I think we played well today, we played a good team and we showed we can play against any team,” said Pontus Aberg, one of the Ducks’ lone bright spots with six goals in 15 games. “It’s just a matter of finding a way to do it every day.”
That’s exactly the issue that plagues the Ducks. Even though it’s a defeat, the Ducks can be proud of their effort. That wasn’t the case in a 5-0 road setback to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday. Consistency escapes them.
The Ducks (8-9-4) haven’t made matters any easier; they continue to chase the game. During the 14-game stretch,the Ducks have scored the game’s first goal on three occasions.
The same story unfolded Friday 5:42 into the game.
Jake Gardiner, back to the end boards, slung the puck toward the net and disaster struck for the Ducks. Defenseman Josh Manson was dawdling in front of John Gibson, and the puck appeared to carom off his stick and past the goaltender. Patrick Marleau, who was jockeying for position with Manson, was credited with the goal.
The Ducks cobbled together plenty of Grade-A scoring chances, but didn’t find the equalizer until just 1:25 remained in the second period. That’s when Aberg ripped a laser of a slap shot off the rush past Garret Sparks to tie it up at 1.
The Leafs (14-6) have the most points in the NHL and also the league’s best road record at 8-1 (the same number of wins the Ducks possess overall). They were ferocious on the forecheck all night, and their persistence paid off in the extra period.
Adam Henrique and Rickard Rakell couldn’t connect on a 2-on-1 in overtime, and somehow, they collided in front of the net.
That left Hampus Lindholm to fend for himself, and it was too easy for the Leafs. Mitch Marner fed Morgan Rielly, who fired the winning wrister past Gibson. Rielly leads all NHL defensemen with 25 points.
“It’s tough. Small things like that happen in overtime,” Rakell said in commenting on his mishap with Henrique. “If it doesn’t work on the one end, they go down the other end and they’re gonna have a 2-on-1. … We had our chances to win in regulation but we didn’t manage to do that today.”
Sooner or later, the Ducks must find a way to do just that if they hope to reach the postseason for a seventh consecutive season.