Things went so well for the Anaheim Ducks to start the season. For one game. Then so poorly for two entire weeks. And now, the situation is bright again. The Ducks defeated the Blues at Honda Center on Sunday in the early evening, their 4-1 victory completing a four-game home stand winning streak. That’s even more encouraging when you consider that the St. Louis team is the best squad they’ve faced over the four games.
The scoring started for St. Louis with just thirteen seconds gone. Josh Manson turned a puck over taking it out of his own end, and the Blues pounced. John Gibson did not look particularly lively on a slide-over attempt at a splits save. Gibson did look sharp on a blast from Faulk off another turnover about a minute later, and he settled down not to be beaten again.
The Ducks opened up the game even more than they normally have been doing, Adam Henrique challenging the Blues’ netminder in close with only a man to his right side. Binnington made a good save. The first period ended with no damage further recorded in terms of goals allowed.
The second period saw some tic-tac-toe passing with a goal being scored by Sam Carrick, who, it seems, is mentioned every night in the “Ducks who did good things” category. He notched his third goal of the year in five games. The assists were from Derek Grant and Bo Groulx. The second period thus ended at ones.
The third saw the Ducks score three unanswered, the first by Troy Terry. This put him at eleven games with a point. He leads the team with eight goals and seven assists for fifteen points. Kevin Shattenkirk, from the backline, has twelve, on three goals.
Terry’s goal came on the power play, one of two such attempts that the Ducks enjoyed. The Anaheim team gave up only one power play against, which was obviously not capitalized upon by St. Louis. In addition to their two minors, the Blues saw Perron assessed a ten-minute misconduct penalty near the end of the game.
The Terry goal came on a classic setup from below the goal line by Sonny Milano. He passed it to the slot, and Terry had to redirect past Binnington up and under the crossbar. He is now tied for fifth in NHL scoring league-wide.
Groulx was not done. After Sam Steel got the 3-1 goal at near midway through period three, Groulx iced things with an unassisted goal just past the nineteen-minute mark. It was his first in the NHL. He has played all thirteen games this year, his first in the NHL after being drafted by Anaheim 54thoverall in the 2018 entry draft. It was an empty net marker, but Groulx had to fight the puck out of his own zone and then juke past David Perron, giving him an arm whack along the way that sent 57 down to the ice, on the way to guiding the puck into the empty cage.
Coach Eakins is clearly pleased with how things are going. He said afterwards, “The guys that are coming in are hungry. The greatest thing that we have right now on this team is competition. You see a guy like Sam Steel tonight get rewarded, played a really solid game, big goal for us. That kid has done nothing but work hard. It is a total team effort right now. When I mean team, I mean not only the 20 guys that dress tonight, but the guys that weren’t dressed, that have played the games before, who were out tonight, you see the lineup moving around so we need, not just one line, or one goalie, or a D-pair, we need all 23 of our players right now.”
The Ducks have now scored an average of 3.5 goals per game over the previous eight contests. In eight consecutive games, they have scored at least three goals.
Their power play is now clicking, hitting at a 31.6% rate. If that sounds good, that’s partially because it nearly quadruples last year’s production. Their PK is hitting at 90.5%. Scotty Bowman famously said that PP plus PK percentage should add up to 100. What would he think about better than 120?
Terry commented on the PP after the game: “With the power play having more confidence, it just adds to it. When you’re going out there and you feel like we’re going to score, it’s a better feeling to have with the power play. The big talk for us is not being satisfied that we’re doing good and just getting better.”
Gibson stopped 34 of 35 shots faced, and Binnington 23 of 26. Gibson was named the first star, with Getzlaf and Hampus Lindholm trailing him in that distinction.
Eakins filled in the details on a recent run of illness that might well have kept the goalie out of the lineup: “Unbelievable. This kid, two days ago he was so sick, I think the only thing he ate was four Gatorade’s. We brought him in early the one morning to make sure on the COVID test. I caught him outside in his car; he was as white as a ghost. I checked in with him last night, checked in again this morning. He texted me at 6:30 this morning, just said, ‘Hey, I’m good to go,’ and I texted him and said, ‘So you’re good to back up,’ and he said, ‘No, I’m good to start’. I think that really shows a commitment. This guy has been not in a fun place for 48 hours, and he sucks it up, gets in there, and then probably three saves tonight could be saves of the year. Those are incredible stops.”
So where does this leave the Ducks? In clear possession of third in the Pacific, though they’ve played at least one more game, and in some cases two, than the rivals who surround them.
The Ducks now play in Vancouver and Seattle on Tuesday and Thursday before hosting the Canucks next Sunday in Anaheim.
Attendance was reported at just over 12,000 (capacity is over 17,000) on this Military Appreciation Night. This was a 5pm Sunday start, not unusual for Anaheim.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.