Anaheim Ducks Need More Contributions From Depth Players


In a shocking turn of events about 20 minutes before warm-ups on Wednesday, both Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were declared out of the lineup because of “flu-like symptoms”. Because the announcement came so close to game time, Ducks fans seemed to be shell-shocked entering the game: all signs and pre-game line rush announcements had the duo included. However, this was just another test of adversity for the team, and no opponent was going to pull punches because the team was without its franchise players. The Ducks had to respond, and for the most part, they did.

It was a miserable and, frankly, embarrassing and unforgivable start to the game, regardless of who was missing from the lineup. The Ducks were outshot 12-4 in the first period and then promptly gave up a second goal just 10 seconds into the second period (albeit while shorthanded). The Ducks were already playing from behind to begin with, and their start did the team no favors. The sluggish start continued throughout the first portion of the second period, and Anaheim was being outshot 19-5 at one point in the game.

Then, Matt Beleskey tapped in his sixth of the season on the power play to continue his nice start to the season. Emerson Etem finally scored his first goal and point 14 games into the season near the end of the second period, and after 40 minutes, the game was suddenly tied up, and the play had tilted in Anaheim’s favor. The Ducks hung around and had their chances in the third period and overtime (including a disallowed Beleskey goal), but ultimately fell victim to a John Tavares overtime winner, losing 3-2 in overtime but gaining a point in the process.

There is a case where yesterday’s game was a “moral loss”: the Ducks managed to get a point in a game where they missed their two franchise cornerstones against a much improved New York Islanders club. In perspective, New York’s two cornerstone players, Tavares and Kyle Okposo, accounted for all three Islanders’ goals in the game yesterday.

But there are other aspects that must be considered from the game last night. Although it was because of sickness, there are nights when Getzlaf and Perry are either going to be neutralized or out of the lineup (injury, suspension, unforeseen circumstances). Though they are the two best players on this team, the two of them cannot be expected to carry the Ducks all season, especially if the Ducks are to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. Championships are a team effort, and the Ducks cannot become a one or two line team if they are to truly have and fulfill championship aspirations.

Postgame, head coach Bruce Boudreau offered this. “The biggest challenge is finding line combinations with the group that played tonightOther than that they’re all NHL players. We’ve always prided ourselves on good depth. When players are out we expect other people to step up and do the job, because it’s an opportunity for them.”

Boudreau is absolutely correct in saying that the team needs more contributions from its depth players, as the NHL follows the “next man up” philosophy. However, the team needs contributions from its depth players regardless of whether the team is fully healthy or playing massively shorthanded, as it was last night.

Yes, it is a slight overreaction to criticize a team’s depth after just one game, despite the team lacking its two stars in a game where they earned a point. However, the Ducks really need other players on the roster to start performing regardless. Perry has 11 goals and 15 points, while Getzlaf has 11 assists and 14 points. Offseason acquisition Ryan Kesler has been strong as expected, with three goals and nine points in 14 games. However, the rest of the forwards have not contributed as much as they need to.

Beleskey is second on the team with six goals, but he has been held without an assist all season. In the opposite end of the spectrum, Patrick Maroon has four points in six games while playing alongside Getzlaf and Perry. Those are fine numbers, but that barely covers two lines of production. There simply needs to be more production throughout the lineup.

Guys who were expected to take the next step this year, such as Devante Smith-Pelly, Etem, Rickard Rakell, and Jakob Silfverberg, have not done so in the manner expected. This team needs to get its other forwards going offensively because Anaheim won’t win very many games if Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler are the only players factoring into the goal scoring. One of the team’s biggest areas of weakness was the voids on the top-six last season: outside of Getzlaf and Perry, the Ducks did not have any true top-six players. The addition of Kesler has added a bona-fide top-six player to the lineup, but the Ducks still need to find players in their system to fill those roles and become dependable top-six forwards for the team.

Smith-Pelly has five points in 14 games, including three goals. Silfverberg also has five points, all assists. Andrew Cogliano has just four points in 14 games, including a shorthanded goal. Etem has just one goal and point on the season. Rakell, in competing for the final center spot on the Ducks with William Karlsson, only has two assists in nine games.

However, there is still hope for the team. Dany Heatley is continuing to shake off the rust as he returns from a groin injury, and Kyle Palmieri is set to return in about two weeks. These are two more players who can contribute to the team’s forward depth.

It’s not time to panic or worry too much about this situation. The Ducks are 10-3-1 and on top of the Pacific Division early. Their best players have been their best players. The defense has taken strides forward from last season, and players such as Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen have continued to improve for the team. Lindholm is second on the team in ice time and has a +8 rating, while Fowler and Vatanen have registered nine and eight points on the season, respectively.

However, this is still something to watch. Again, the best players aren’t going to be there some nights, whether because of injury, suspension, neutralized play, or just an off game. The best teams win with depth and can roll four lines at any time to keep themselves in the game. Bruce Boudreau did say:  “If the same thing happens on Friday, at least we’ve gone through it. Now we know we can do it.”