The Ducks’ penultimate game of the 2018-19 season was another glimpse into their future, one that appears promising despite their lack of success this season.
For the first time since 2012, the Ducks won’t have a chance to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup. They sit at 78 points heading into the season finale against the rival Kings on Friday. Still, the Ducks possess pride — and youth — looking to end on a high note.
They did just that Wednesday night at a sold-out Honda Center with a 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames, a club that will enjoy home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs after accumulating 107 points, the second-most in the NHL.
It was the Ducks who were creating the quality chances, buzzing around the net with ferocity. And it was a pair of 2016 first-rounders who proved once again they’re ready to be featured skaters heading into next season.
Max Jones and fellow rookie Sam Steel — chosen six spots later with the last pick in the first round — pushed the Ducks out to a 2-0 lead with a goal apiece in the opening period. Steel scored about five minutes into the game with a one-timer from the high slot that beat Flames goaltender David Rittich.
Jones’ goal came less than two minutes later. The bruising, 6-foot-3, 220-pounder who used his frame to shield defenseman Oliver Kylington from the puck as he whirled around the net, corralling the puck with one hand. Jones spun around and fired top-shelf with a shot that caught the netminder by surprise.
It was just the second goal of Jones’ 29-game career, and further evidence that the power forward’s game is expanding.
“I think I’ve done a really good job with the way I’ve been playing; I can score goals and make things happen,” said Jones, 21, whose father, Brad, played 148 games in the NHL. “I think [the coaches] wanted me, maybe the last 10 games, 11 games ... to tune up the small parts of my game defensively. Just making sure I’m playing the right way ... I was trying to score so much that it just wasn’t working out for me.”
It’s working for him now as heads into the offseason. Steel’s game has certainly been paying dividends for him. The 21-year-old center became the youngest player in Ducks history to record a hat trick in a victory over the Vancouver Canucks last week. Steel also proved proficient in the face-off circle; he won 60% of his draws vs. the Flames.
The young duo madethe biggest — and most important — impression Wednesday, but two veterans were key to the win. Ryan Getzlaf scored in the second period to give the Ducks another two-goal lead, and backup goaltender Ryan Miller made 26 saves for his first win in five outings.
When Miller was in goal last week, he gave up six goals against the Flames. He also allowed six against the Arizona Coyotes last month. During that four-game losing streak, he allowed at least three in each game. Finally, in his likely final game of the season , Miller delivered and showed shades of the player who once won a Vezina Trophy.