Optimal lineup for Anaheim Ducks is key to postseason berth

Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Anaheim Ducks (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

The New Year’s ball has dropped, we are halfway through the NHL regular season (more or less), and to the surprise of everyone besides this writer, the Anaheim Ducks are in a playoff spot. (You can read my expectations from earlier in the season here, which are looking pretty good at the moment.)

Now I am not patting myself or the Ducks on the back just yet, the season is 82 games, and you don’t get credit until you clinch a playoff berth. But right or wrong, and no matter what your expectations of the Ducks were back in the fall the simple fact is this, it is a failure if the Ducks do not make the post-season now.

The excuses are all out the window and if you can put yourself 2nd in the Pacific Division just as the midway point approaches, you need to hold on to it. And for the Ducks to hold on to that spot or climb above they need to put the most optimal line-up on the ice night in and night out.

Dallas Eakins and the entire coaching staff have done an above-average job at that to this point, but as each game grows in magnitude there is less room for error. So, this should be the Ducks line-up when completely healthy and not accounting for Covid, injuries, trades, etc.

Anaheim Ducks Forwards Corps

Adam Henrique-Ryan Getzlaf-Troy Terry

Sonny Milano-Trevor Zegras-Rickard Rakell

Jakob Silfverberg-Isac Lundestrom-Max Comtois

Nic Deslauriers-Sam Carrick-Vinni Letterri/Max Jones

Extra F: Derek Grant

Again, when healthy this is the Ducks’ best and optimal line-up. Unfortunately, Adam Henrique and Max Jones remain on IR causing things to be shuffled. However, that top 6 is not only the best top 6 the Ducks have had in some time but it’s a group that can lead to the playoff and do damage in them.

Henrique has finally returned to skating according to the OC Register but still could be a little way away. When he returns, he should slot right back up on that top line. Max Jones was slated to miss 4-6 months following a pec tear back in October so he should be back before the playoffs however depending on when it could be Vinni Letterri’s job

Letterri has done more than enough to earn a spot in the line-up and brings a little more scoring pop to the 4th line. He also has the speed and ability to move up in the line-up and be utilized as a weapon on the power-play as his one-timer ability is a great wrinkle to add. Letteri and Carrick for that matter make someone like Derek Grant expendable.

Both Letteri and Carrick provide much more offensive upside than Grant and are just as reliable in the defensive end. Grant has shown all season he cannot keep up with the speed game the Ducks are now playing, and more often than not he has been a determent to the Ducks in all situations.

Anaheim Ducks Defense Pairs

Hampus Lindholm-Jamie Drysdale

Josh Manson-Cam Fowler

Kevin Shattenkirk-Simon Benoit

This has by and large been the Ducks D-corps all season long and a big reason why the Ducks are where they are. Lindholm is having a great year and is on pace to record career highs in goals and points. Drysdale and Fowler have both been putting up points and helped turn the league-worst power-play into a league-best.

Manson is always a steadying force and brings a little more edge that allows a freer skating Fowler to do what he does best. Truthfully, I could see Manson being moved at the deadline with his expiring contract and the Ducks bringing in another top 4 d-man cheaper that does what Manson can.

I am a Josh Manson fan, but I think his stock is high and the Ducks have defensive prospects coming that make Manson expendable. It is also a perfect move for interim GM Jeff Solomon to make as it helps the Ducks in the short and long term.

Your bottom defensive pair never needs to be game-changing, but they need to do their job. And Shattenkirk and Benoit do just that. Shattenkirk is finally doing what the Ducks brought him in for, helping the power-play as he is tied for the lead on the team in power-play points and is playing just shy of 20 mins a night.

He still has some defensive shortcomings but playing on the third pair has helped keep those shortcomings minimal. Benoit is far from lighting the world on fire but anything you get on the positive side of the equation from your 6th d-man is gravy. He doesn’t look out of place; makes smart plays and in most games, you barely notice him which means he isn’t making any glaring mistakes. This allows him to hold down that final spot and more importantly for most fans keep the likes of Jacob Larsson off the ice.

Anaheim Ducks Goalies

John Gibson

Anthony Stolarz

The easiest grouping is without a doubt between the pipes. John Gibson has returned to an elite and at times Vezina-level this season after a tougher stretch last year. Some of that may be attributed to the team in front of him, as stress and fatigue drastically reduce when you aren’t seeing 40+ shots a game and know the team in front of you can put the puck in the net.

Gibson always has and always will have the ability to steal games, but it is a huge benefit he doesn’t need to game in and game out. This will allow him to not only be fresher down the stretch but in the post-season as well. And Gibson will need to continue to be locked in as the games will only increase in magnitude from here.

Anthony Stolarz proved last season he was ready to handle backup duties, but the underlying concern was his success last season was a fluke or could he maintain it. He has only appeared in 10 games but has 6 wins and 2 shut-outs and played well enough that the Ducks feel confident playing in front of him.

The toughest aspect for Stolarz the rest of the way is remaining focused and locked in. It’s Gibson’s net and with each game only mounting in importance, the Ducks will turn to Gibson that much more. However, he can’t play every game and Stolarz will have to be ready even though all of his starts will probably come with long stretches in between.

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The Ducks have far and away exceeded expectations this year and with that comes new expectations. They are young and inexperienced in spots but consistency in how they are viewed needs to exist. They cannot be playoff-bound after being this well on one hand and then given a pass because some of their best players are young. It will and should be considered a collapse should they miss the playoffs but icing this line-up game in and game out should not allow for that to happen.