Ryan Getzlaf is Leading the Anaheim Ducks More than Ever Before

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Ryan Getzlaf has become one of the best leaders in the NHL, and it shows through his play. Getzlaf was named the eighth captain in Anaheim Ducks history to start the 2010-2011 season.  Getzlaf had big shoes to fill, as the “C” had been worn by the likes of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, with the former at the helm when the Ducks captured the Stanley Cup in 2007. There was a lot of initial criticism of Getzlaf when he was awarded the captaincy. There were no guarantees that Getzlaf would succeed in the role, despite his terrific skillset as a player. Skill and leadership don’t always go hand in hand: the most talented player does not have the captaincy on every team.

There was no doubt a learning curve for Getzlaf, as the Ducks had some tremendous regular seasons but never quite found post-season success with Getzlaf as the captain. In his first three seasons as captain, the Ducks made two playoff appearances but lost to a lower-seeded team in each year (six games to the fifth-seeded Nashville Predators in 2011, seven games to the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings in 2013). Between those two playoff appearances, the Ducks finished an abysmal 34-36-2 in 2012, and their 80 points were tied for the fifth worst mark in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, things changed for the Ducks under Getzlaf last season.

Getzlaf had a terrific year in 2013-2014, scoring a career high 31 goals. His 87 points were the second most of his career (he had a 91 point campaign in 2008-2009). Those points, as well as his presence on the ice, were integral in guiding the Ducks to their second consecutive Pacific Division crown, the top seed in the Western Conference, and a team-record 54 wins and 116 points, which was just a point short of winning the President’s Trophy. His strong season also earned Getzlaf his first Hart Trophy nomination as league MVP (he finished second behind Sidney Crosby). But it was just another strong regular season for the Ducks: that alone should not have meant anything in terms of Getzlaf’s leadership. However, the first round playoff series against the Dallas Stars became the moment where Getzlaf cemented his stake as one of the better captains in the game.

In Game 1, Getzlaf scored during a three goal first period outburst. In the waning moments of the game, Getzlaf blocked a Tyler Seguin slap-shot with his jaw. The Ducks had been up 4-0 in the game, but were only up 4-3 in the waning seconds. That was a key block, preserving the lead and giving the Ducks a 1-0 lead to start the postseason. Numerous stitches and the birth of his third child that morning didn’t keep Getzlaf out of Game 2. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau responded in the following manner when asked about Getzlaf and the injury.

"“That’s why he’s the captain, won two gold medals and a Stanley Cup. He’s learned from the Scotty Niedermayers and Chris Prongers who were here before him. He’s a battler and a gamer. He won’t look too pretty, but he’ll be playing.”"

The day before Game 2, Bruce Boudreau also offered this comment.

"“If I saw my captain take a puck in the face and come back the next day, I’d want to play as hard as I possibly can.”"

The Ducks won Game 2 behind a terrific performance from Getzlaf, who scored the tying goal in the first period. He had an assist on an Andrew Cogliano shorthanded goal, which ended up being the game-winning goal. He finished the game with a goal and an assist, as well as a +3 rating in the 3-2 win.

The series had some nerve-wracking moments, as the Ducks dropped both games in Dallas. Game 4 was one of the worst performances by the team in the postseason, and it can hardly be considered a coincidence, considering Getzlaf sat out the game. The Ducks, without their captain, couldn’t maintain a 2-0 lead after the first period and lost their overall composure in the contest, racking up 47 penalty minutes while losing a 2-0 series lead and major momentum. When the Ducks needed a win in Game 5 to rebound after two sub-par outings, Getzlaf led the way, recording a three-point night, including an assist on the eventual game-winning power-play goal from Mathieu Perreault. He also had a third period goal that chased Stars netminder Kari Lehtonen. With Getzlaf back in the lineup, the Ducks looked like a completely different club, winning Game 5 by a final score of 6-2. The Ducks made a ferocious comeback in Game 6, winning their first playoff series since 2009 and first with Getzlaf as the captain.

Getzlaf was a key component in the next series against the Los Angeles Kings, scoring a goal and eight points in the seven game series. The Ducks as a whole were not ready to take that next step into being a true Stanley Cup contender: the Kings showed that in Game 7, yet the Ducks were just one game away from being right there in the Western Conference Finals. Getzlaf willed the Ducks and led by example throughout the entire playoffs. However, Getzlaf may be leading the Ducks even better this season than he has ever done before.

Getzlaf has played in all but one game (he missed the November 5th contest against the New York Islanders) and has 10 goals and 34 points through 32 games. Getzlaf has been tremendous for the Ducks, especially lately, as the team has been without the services of sniper Corey Perry, thanks to the mumps and a knee injury suffered December 5th against the Minnesota Wild. Getzlaf will be missing his “twin” and line mate until the end of December, with the most optimistic diagnosis. Regardless, the season will go on, and the team has no opportunity to make excuses. Getzlaf is taking that to heart, recording at least a point in eight of the team’s past nine games. In those nine games, Getzlaf has four goals and 15 points, including five multi-point outings and has a +7 rating. In the ten games without Perry, Getzlaf has appeared in nine of them, scoring four goals and 11 points with a +3 rating. He has been tremendous for the Ducks, who lead the NHL with 47 points with a 21-7-5 record.

Despite leading the league in standings points, the Ducks have had issues holding leads late into games. The Ducks have had leads of multiple goals, only to let up their intensity and watch teams either make the game close or even tie it in the third period. With the Ducks in the midst of a five-game road trip through Canada, Getzlaf looked to rectify that. Despite letting the Edmonton Oilers score twice, the Ducks won the first game 4-2, with Getzlaf netting the game-winning goal. Following the game Getzlaf commented on the importance of holding leads.

"“If you want to be an elite team in this league you have to learn to just do it. Regardless of what the situation is, we just have to do what we do and continue on. We’re learning things, learning steps and hopefully our group can learn things from our last two games.”"

The Ducks seemed to take those words to heart, as they defeated the Winnipeg Jets the next day by a score of 4-1. The Ducks conceded the first goal, but scored the final four to win, with Getzlaf getting the game-winner again. He has stepped up in a big way, and although the Ducks are, and will be, vastly better with the return of Perry, Getzlaf hasn’t missed a beat. That is what a captain needs to do: bring his best effort with each game and lead by example, even if he isn’t producing on the score sheet that particular night.

His presence is obvious to those who watch the Ducks play. The team, as a whole, is considerably better when he is on the ice. It shouldn’t be overlooked that adding guys such as Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson is a big help to the team, as both served as alternate captains for the Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively. However, the main voice in the room belongs to Getzlaf. The past two seasons have seen Getzlaf take major steps forward in the leadership department, and Getzlaf continues to prove that his choice as the Ducks captain was indeed the correct one. The Ducks believe that this year could be a championship year, and with Getzlaf leading the charge the way that he is, that could very well be the case.