If the 2015-16 season has taught us anything, it’s that the NHL season is a marathon, not a sprint. There is perhaps no team that knows that better than the Anaheim Ducks.
It seems like eons ago, but the Ducks started out the season less than favorably. Okay, they started out horrendously. A 1-7-2 record out of the gate for a team many thought would be among the favorites to capture the Stanley Cup this season.
Just as importantly, their two biggest stars — Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf — were non-existent. Both had just one point through the team’s first eight games. It took Getzlaf 14 games to even pick up his first goal of the season. Everything seemed to be going against the Ducks.
Then the season progressed and things started to right themselves. Perry and Getzlaf got hot. The Ducks started to win again. And now, as February nears a close, the red-hot Ducks — winners of their last five and sporting an 8-1-1 record over their last 10 games — sit just two points out of first place in the Pacific Division.
Getzlaf still has just eight goals, but his playmaking has been as good as ever. He’s really picked up the pace lately, sitting at 39 assists and 47 points through 54 games this season. Perry has likewise turned things up a bit, landing in the top 15 in goals with 23 as of this writing.
Defenseman Sami Vatanen is having one of his best seasons to date, sporting 30 points in 58 games so far. Center Rickard Rakell has also given the Ducks three strong centers with his development offensively this year. Rakell, tied with the much more highly vaunted Ryan Kesler, has already set career-bests in goals (15) and points (33) through just 55 games played.
A big key to their surge of late has been someone who wasn’t on their roster opening night. A short 15 games ago, the Ducks made a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins, sending Carl Haeglin out east for David Perron. The move has worked wonderfully for the Ducks, with Perron registering six goals and 14 points in his 15 games in Anaheim.
Once again, the Ducks look like the deep, talented team everyone thought would challenge for the Stanley Cup. And yes, the emergence of Rakell and the addition of Perron have helped that greatly. But where would this team be without its goaltending?
The duties have been pretty much evenly split between youngsters Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, each sharing similar stat lines. Gibson, who made the All-Star team, sports the better goals against average (2.10 to Andersen’s 2.39, though the former has started six fewer games) and has four shutouts already. Both sport a .917 save percentage and 14 wins.
Some would argue that having a “controversy” in nets is a problem, but it’s hard to see how this is anything but a good problem. Both are playing well and, if one falters, there’s an option to fall back on. What will happen come playoff time remains to be seen, but it’s better to have two good goalies than one.
So with about six weeks remaining in the regular season, the Ducks have to feel good about where they stand. They’re heating up late in the season, finding themselves as a team and getting the best possible performances out of the players that matter most.
Whether or not this will carry over into the playoffs remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: this Ducks team will be a force to be reckoned with in the spring time.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @kindofawriter