Tonight will mark the only time during the regular season that the Anaheim Ducks will visit West Madison, and thank the hockey gods for that, because their new road white uniforms are sinfully ugly. It’s fitting that they’re in town so close to Halloween wearing such terrifying costumes, and in the traditional colors of the holiday no less.
The Ducks also make for an equally ugly opponent for the Hawks, given the size and speed of their forward corps. In addition to the pecker twins of Ryan Getzlaf and sentient shitpile Corey Perry, the Ducks went out this summer and acquired Ryan Kesler for pennies on the dollar, and thus crushing Sam’s dreams of him ever playing for the Hawks. So far he’s paid dividends providing the secondary scoring behind Getzlaf and Perry, with 7 points in 8 games to the top duo’s predictably identical nine points a piece. Matt Beleskey also already is halfway to his full season career best in goals just 9 games in with 5 already, but after that things dry up a little. Devante Smith-Pelley and William Karlsson have two goals a piece, but other than that Gabby’s group isn’t getting much from the bottom of their young forward corps.
Additionally, the Ducks have scored 9 of their 29 goals on the advantage, which would explain why the top of the roster is what propelled them to a 7 game win streak that was recently snapped by the San Jose Sharks and resulted in a very productive and not at all stupid line brawl involving Tim Jackman and John Scott, two key contributors. But what the success on the power play is masking is that the Ducks are still only dead even at five on five, both taking and yielding exactly 369 shot attempts in 9 games. For a team that was seeking offensive depth and balance, the story is still the same as it ever was for Bruce Boudreau coached teams.
The Ducks have also been kept afloat (GET IT) by a thus-far spectacular performance from Fredrik Andersen, who currently sports a .940 save percentage, including an otherworldly .947 at even strength. Red Assed Uncle Bob Murray gambled this off season that his team could get by without a name-brand goaltender and let Jonas Hiller walk in favor of Andersen and prospect John Gibson and their miniscule entry level contracts. And even though Gibson has been lackluster and even was demoted to get some work in, Andersen thus far has made Bob look real smart. But the numbers say that that .947 can’t last, and the way the Ducks are treading water (GET IT) in possession, they seem to need it to for continued success.
They certainly won’t get any help tonight with news of Ben Lovejoy out at least six weeks from breaking his hand in the totally necessary fracas against San Jose, which likely means Mark Fistric will draw in as his replacement. While there’s not a lot of brand recognition among the Ducks’ blueliners, there is some skill there, led by Olympian Cam Fowler (GET IT), and the Scandanavian duo of Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, who has all 7 of his points on the advantage (3G, 4A). But Vatanen and Clayton Stoner tend to get their skulls caved in at evens, and with Fowler’s primary partner in Lovejoy out, Boudreau will have to juggle some things to see who gets to take on the tough assigments that Fowler handles. Without the benefit of last change at home (where the Ducks had been for five straight prior to tonight), there will be some opportunities for Hawk forwards.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, HOMETOWN KID Scott Darling has earned another start after his solid performance on Sunday night. While he’s the perfect narrative storm of backup goalie, underdog story, and local boy, Darling actually does make more sense than Raanta in lieu of Crawford for a couple of reasons based on what was seen on Sunday. First off, Darling is massive at 6’6″ 230 lbs, and on Sunday he showed an ability to remain strong when dropping to the ice to make a save amid a scrum, something that the light-in-the-ass Raanta has often struggled with, particularly against large, angry forward corps such as the Ducks’. And as a bigger dude, he’s not as quick or mobile, so he has to be more reliant on his angles and making saves straight on, which the Hawk defensemen have worked better with as opposed to a wanderer, which everyone found out the hard way during the Marty Turco experience. But the Ducks have plenty of East-West skill as well, and they’ll look to make Darling move tonight, which is something the Senators had trouble doing. It will be incumbent upon the Hawk defenders to keep sticks in lanes when in tight.
The lineup elsewhere figures to be the same as well, with the likely exception of Michal Rozsival drawing back in for Rundblad, with Quenneville favoring veteran heft on his blueline where ever possible. With the forward groups remaining the same, look for Q to fight fire with fire with Toews and Hossa seeing as much of Perry and Getzlaf as possible. It’s Kesler that becomes the matchup problem for Quenneville, though it will probably be Kruger and Smith whenever possible, with Jeremy Morin coming on a late change particularly for defenseive zone draws. It certainly won’t be the Kane and Shaw unit, which is now far and away the worst possession grouping on the team thanks to some ghastly Shaw d-zone turnovers and an inability to win a draw ever for any reason.
Aside from the power play, another thing that the Ducks do exceptionally well is win faceoffs, and the Hawks are back to their time honored tradition of no one but Jonathan Toews being allowed to win a faceoff. Marcus Kruger has not been able to have his success in that area carry over to this year, and the result has left the Hawks chasing to start the play a bit more than they’d like. But with the Ducks’ top pairing in flux and Boudreau needing to find a suitable partner for Fowler to take the tougher assignments on the road, there will be opportunities to generate shot attempts, which will be needed in volume to pierce Andersen with the way he’s playing. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re heading to the game tonight, make sure you pick up a copy of our game day program outside the arena. If you’re not, you can get the PDF version right here: https://sowl.co/jyP6Y