Andrew Cogliano celebrates (Harry How/Getty Images)
The Anaheim Ducks struggled out of the gate and were held scoreless in five of their first eight games. But over their past three outings, the Ducks have scored eight goals and Anaheim is showing signs of life as they look to climb out of the Pacific Division basement.
By the time the Anaheim Ducks had completed their eighth game of the season, there were whispers that a team thought to be a Western Conference powerhouse coming into the campaign might be one of the biggest busts in 2015-16.
After Game 8, the Ducks had been shutout for a second consecutive contest and for a fifth time in their first eight tilts. Anaheim had lost seven of its first eight outings, and the offense had six goals total, which included a four-goal outburst against the Minnesota Wild in the Ducks’ only victory of the season. Then, in their ninth game, Anaheim got out to a 3-0 lead against the Dallas Stars only to drop the contest 4-3. Game 10 was another defeat, this time 2-1 at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. That's not including the team had lost star center and captain Ryan Getzlaf to appendicitis. If it could go wrong, it was for the Ducks.
Because of the Ducks' start, there were rumblings about the security of coach Bruce Boudreau's job and questions regarding the possibility of GM Bob Murray shaking up his roster to give the team a much-needed boost. But Murray spoke to media Friday and said he believed things were heading in the right direction.
“We were one game away from the Final just five months ago,” Murray said in a statement. “So while this has been a terrible start, I’m not inclined to make rash changes. I’m going to be patient. That said, we are severely underperforming as a group. I can’t recall a time where a vast majority of our players have underachieved simultaneously, and I fully expect a turnaround.”
Sunday evening, the Ducks played their first game since Murray addressed the media. And their GM’s good faith was rewarded in the first frame, especially in a 12-second span when Sami Vatanen and Andrew Cogliano rifled home goals:
Heading into Sunday’s game, the Ducks’ biggest worry was that the club couldn’t catch a break. From the beginning of the season until Oct. 26, the Ducks had the league’s worst shooting percentage at 5-on-5. Over that eight-game span, their offense was scoring on a brutal 2.1 percent of their shots at full strength.
But over the past three games — the 4-3 loss to Dallas, 2-1 defeat by St. Louis and Sunday’s 4-2 victory over Nashville — Anaheim is finally getting some bounces and pucks are finding their way into the net at last. Including the loss to the Stars, the Ducks’ offense has scored on 10.5 percent of their shots at 5-on-5 over their past three games, which is a top-10 mark in the league. Three games is a small sample size, but even the Ducks players are realizing that pucks are starting to bounce their way.
“We kept battling,” goaltender Frederik Andersen told media after Sunday’s win. “We came out hard and worked for each other. We got some bounces our way and pucks started going in. Even when they scored their goals, we kept going. We didn’t sit back and feel sorry for ourselves.”
All the Ducks have really needed so far is the slightest turnaround offensively. They haven’t been poor defensively and sit tied for 11th in goals against, but their league-worst offense needed to click for the wins to pile up, especially because the Ducks had dropped four of their first nine games by one marker. That they’ve more than doubled their goal output from the first eight games in their past three outings is a positive sign.
On top of the contributions from Vatanen and Cogliano Sunday, the Ducks also got secondary scoring from Chris Stewart and Rickard Rakell. Anaheim has consistently had contributions from their depth players in the past three games and it's the top end of their lineup which has been the biggest letdown. Take star Corey Perry, who has yet to really get his scoring started. Through 11 games, Perry has three assists and is on pace for the worst offensive season of his career.
But while Perry struggles, there was a bright light in that the Ducks notched three first period goals against a team as stingy as the Predators. Through their first 10 outings of the campaign, Nashville hadn’t surrendered a single first-period tally, but the Ducks got on the board just 1:11 into the frame thanks to a beauty by Rakell, and Cogliano's tally turned out to be the game-winner.
The Ducks haven’t righted the ship because of one outing against the Predators, but Anaheim’s past three games have shown this club can still score and Boudreau’s Ducks can still get back on track. And next up Anaheim hosts the tight-checking Florida Panthers and struggling Columbus Blue Jackets. If the bounces keep coming, there’s little doubt the Ducks can start climbing their way back into Pacific Division contention.