Anaheim, CA—In Anaheim, it’s more of the same: more shots by opponents, more goals by opponents, more highlight moves by Zegras, more pinpoint accuracy of the part of Troy Terry. And more and different players. Of late, Nikita Nesterenko has made his debut, getting into three games. He scored his first NHL goal on Saturday night versus the Blues.
Nesterenko recently signed a two-year entry-level contract after playing for Boston College. His NHL rights were traded to Anaheim from Minnesota in the John Klingberg trade deadline deal. He was a 2019 draft choice of the Wild.
What else is new? Players are moving around in the lineup. Jakob Silfverberg is on the fourth line with Derek Grant and Max Comtois. “Silvy” has played 72 games this year, but has produced only 23 points on ten goals. Meanwhile, Troy Terry is currently slotted as the second line right wing, alongside Mason McTavish at center and Nesterenko on left wing.
Ducks scoring sees Cam Fowler setting a new single-season career high in points, at 10-33-43. The most goals he’s scored in a year are 11, in 2016-17, so look for that personal best to fall, too. He is the third D-man in Ducks’ history to reach 40 points three times, and you can likely guess the other two to do it: Chris Pronger, at three times, and Scott Niedermayer, at four. In case you’re wondering at how long Fowler has been tenured in Anaheim, it’s now 884 games. He has 91 goals, so should pass a hundred next year somewhere around mid-season, depending on how many he piles on as this year winds up.
Recent games have not been kind to the Ducks. They played St. Louis in Anaheim Saturday at the unusually late hour of 7:30pm. By ten past ten, they’d lost the game. Before that, it was one win in five games, 7-4 over Columbus, three losses in a row, and a record of 3-5-2 in ten.
The Ducks have Colorado in on Monday at 7pm and then go to Seattle, Edmonton, and Calgary before returning home for Edmonton again. They may well run that string out in zero points. Not to be too pessimistic or anything.
But John Gibson is still in there fighting. Saturday he got bowled over early in the game, and by the end of period one had let in a couple of questionable goals, to end P1 down 3-2 after Troy Terry had put the team up early on the goalie interference power play. But despite one goal that went to the opposite corner as Sammy Blais streaked across the high slot and another one that snuck under his arm, Gibson was still out there throwing his body into a splits on a puck that didn’t get to him, then doing a spread-eagle that netted him a blocker save. A competitor to the utmost.
But things unraveled in period two, when Gibson was beaten twice within a minute and a half of the start. He’s to the point where he gets up slowly after a save, more slowly after a goal against, and who can blame him. The early period goals didn’t stop him from taking a puck off the mask in period two, something that had happened in period one as well. You just wonder, 100 years from now, when people look at his numbers, if he’ll be read as one of the worst Ducks goalies ever to play, rather than one of the best, which he certainly is.
The Ducks just have no defense. Even shorthanded, people are sneaking right in on net and firing dangerous shots. At least there’s a lot of them, making Gibson’s save percentage look better because there’s so much to calculate the average over.
As for team defense, if goals against is a proxy for doing well, or horribly, how about Anaheim’s current minus-108? The next worse coming into Saturday was Columbus at minus-89. Nearly 20 goals against better, though still abysmal. The best team in the West? Edmonton, obviously on the play of McDavid, is a plus-40. And it’s not that the Ducks are in 7-4 games night after night. The fact is, they just can’t score. Their goals for is just ahead of Chicago’s and second worst in the league.
Scratched of late were players like Sam Carrick and Sam Vatrano. This makes room for people like Brock McGinn, lately from Pittsburgh, and Brett Leason, who has played 51 games for the Ducks thus far this year. Vatrano’s absence was due to a personal family matter, and he is expected to miss only one game. Carrick, though, has to be asking “What do I gotta do?” When he gets the boot for a game. He works hard on every shift and, despite being more of a middleweight than anything more, fights when called upon, and that’s not infrequently.
McGinn hasn’t produced much in his ten games with the Ducks. Just a single goal and one assist after notching 10-6-16 points in 60 games for the Penguins before coming west for Dmitri Kulikov. Also in the deal, a draft choice for Anaheim.
Note also that back at center (for a long while now) is Zegras, there on the first line with Max Jones and Ryan Strome on the flanks. Team scoring looks about like you’d expect, with Zegras in first place, followed by Terry, the aforementioned defenseman Fowler, McTavish, Vatrano, and Strome. Only Zegras and Terry have 20 or more goals. Vatrano has 18. His best season, he had 24 for Florida (2018-19). He also had 18 once (2019-20).
The Ducks play a game at home Monday, then away, home for a game, away again, and they conclude their season with three at home around mid-April.
Looping back to Nesterenko, he said in Ducks media reports this week that he’s anxious to learn the day-to-day life of an NHL player. College is different—two games on a weekend and then days off to recoup (and study). He’ll get a taste of the NHL grind, but only a four-week one, over the last part of the Anaheim campaign.
And he’ll do it safe in the knowledge that he scored an NHL goal. It came with 4:05 left of period one against St. Louis Saturday. No fluke, it was a rebound he took and swept into the net from the right side goal line. One to remember for sure, and out of the way. Nesterenko was a point-per-game campaigner for the Boston club this year. Maybe the Ducks have a good one in this guy.