The Ducks entered the holiday break with a tenuous grip on the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 40 points and a slew of clubs jockeying for position (three teams tied at 39 points).
It’s an impressive feat for the Ducks considering the glut of injuries that befell the squad. They lead the NHL by a wide margin in man-games lost, but the quality of players forced to the sideline can’t be measured.
They began the season with No. 2 center Ryan Kesler still on the mend following offseason hip surgery, but he’s inching ever closer to his season debut. Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf has missed 24 games with different ailments, the latest a fractured cheekbone.
But since the All-Star center returned to the lineup in December, he has been on fire. Getzlaf has produced 16 points in 13 games, by far the best pace on the team.
Hampus Lindholm, who has suited up in only 24 games, also is starting to break out. He collected his first career hat trick last week and if he and Getzlaf can stay healthy for the second half of the season, the Ducks should be a more dangerous squad.
A fifth straight season with 100 points seems unlikely, but the Ducks can still contend for a sixth consecutive Pacific Division crown. If the Ducks are going to catch the surprise Vegas Golden Knights and the Kings, there are still issues for coach Randy Carlyle and general manager Bob Murray to address.
For starters, the Ducks lack the speed to compete with some of the younger squads stacked with smooth-skating playmakers.
Rickard Rakell (team-high 24 points) and Ondrej Kase (a goal in each of the last three games) are perhaps the only forwards capable of striking fear into opposing goalies with their speed.
Kesler’s return will help solidify the No. 2 line, and perhaps slide Adam Henrique to the third line to strengthen the team down the middle.
But Murray likely needs to swing another trade, this time for a speedy scoring winger (Buffalo’s Evander Kane and Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk would fit the bill). It’s especially vital since Patrick Eaves (33 goals last season) might not play again this season because of illness.
And top-line winger Corey Perry has been sidelined with a knee injury since Dec. 11.
The defense is solidified and Henrique has exceeded expectations with eight points in 12 games. Josh Manson has been a revelation on the back end, as has Brandon Montour, who was a healthy scratch last week but still leads all defensemen with 18 points.
The goaltending has been outstanding, too. John Gibson has stood on his head in too many games to count under a barrage of shots. Backup Ryan Miller has answered the bell when his name is called as well.
But too often, the Ducks have saddled their goalies with far too many pucks. At just under 35 shots given up per game, the Ducks rank second in the NHL.
Kesler, the team’s best defensive forward, should help clean that up.
And really, that’s the No. 1 ingredient the Ducks need for success: health. They’re only short three players now (Perry, Kesler and Eaves) and things are looking up as they ready for the second half of the season.
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830.