For the Anaheim Ducks, this game was doomed since Jump Street. The Ducks came into Tuesday’s game in Toronto against the Maple Leafs having only squeezed out 6 points in their prior 13 games and, in their last 2, have been outscored 9-1. It was about to get far worse as Toronto entered this contest on a 3-game win streak and haven’t lost a game in regulation since November 11th. Oh, and if you’ve been under a rock, Mitch Marner entered play looking to extend his point streak to 23 (spoiler alert: he does). John Gibson was set to get the cage for the Ducks, and Ilya Samsonov got the nod for the Leafs.
The Ducks coaching staff was forced to line up with 11 forwards, and 7 defensemen as Max Jones sustained an upper-body injury during warmups. Matters weren’t helped when just 11 seconds into the game, Adam Henrique received a puck to the face courtesy of Leafs’ defenseman Mark Giordano. Henrique was able to return to action later in the period, but for a decent stretch of time, Anaheim was down to 10 forwards.
The Ducks gave up two early goals, but watching this game, it was fairly back and forth for the first 30 minutes. Chances were exchanged, the shot count was even, and it felt like the Ducks were at least in it. Slowly but surely, the Leafs relentless attacking wore Anaheim down, which was a landslide down the stretch.
The Ducks coaching staff seemed to have adjusted their neutral zone forecheck. Where typically, their 1-2-2 forecheck forces teams to the outside where they’re sealed off and forced to give up the puck, tonight the F2 and F3 forecheckers took away the boards and forced the puck to the middle of the ice where the weak-side defenseman would pinch and play the middle. This was immediately exploited as less than 2 minutes into the game. Connor Timmons hit Pierre Engvall with a stretch pass. Engvall avoided Dmitry Kulikov’s check and found Alex Kerfoot in the middle of the ice on the rush for a one-timer that beat John Gibson between the legs.
The front of the net continues to be a problem area for the Ducks’ defense. John Tavares scored a tap-in goal as he outmuscled Dmitry Kulikov halfway through the 1st period. TJ Brodie fired the Maple Leafs third goal off Simon Benoit’s skate, who was battling William Nylander in front. Benoit was out-battled by Michael Bunting, who slammed home a rebound for the Leaf’s 4th goal. To close out the night around the crease, Joey Anderson finds a loose puck after a rebound to close out the night on Toronto’s 7th goal of the night. These instances are all incredibly frustrating to watch because the Anaheim defenders are in positions to make plays on the puck but fail to execute.
Anaheim defenseman Nathan Beaulieu had a rough night. He was a late add to the lineup after the Max Jones injury and was a -3 in 14 minutes of ice time. He was caught puck-watching on Toronto’s 5th and 6th goals. He failed to pick up Alex Kerfoot in the slot as he received a pass from Mark Giordano, and he failed to challenge Pierre Engvall, who walked in and was able to pick his target on rookie goaltender Lukas Dostal.
Aspects of the Ducks’ system that have been successful all season, like the offensive and neutral zone forecheck, were severely lacking in this game. They struggled to put pressure on the Toronto defensemen and allowed them to make clean outlet passes. In the neutral zone, as mentioned before, the adjustment was exploited, and the Leafs were able to capitalize.
The defensive zone obviously remains the biggest issue for the Ducks. They did themselves no favors by allowing the Leafs to attack in waves with poor breakouts. Toronto was extremely potent on the counter-attack in this game. When the Ducks breakout was forced into making an area pass or chip out, their defensemen were able to find forwards with speed to gain zone entry and drive play forward in waves.
As mentioned before, Lukas Dostal was forced into the game after John Gibson sustained an injury halfway through the second period. Gibson stopped 15 of 17 shots and kept the Ducks in the game the best he could. Dostal was put into a poor spot and was left out to dry by his teammates (not an uncommon theme of late for Anaheim goaltenders) and let in 5 goals on 15 shots. Hard to find any major errors made by either of the Ducks netminders tonight.
Before the season started, many looked at the Ducks’ roster on paper and could envision a wide spectrum of outcomes. If everything went right and were coached properly, this could have been a playoff team. With poor coaching and some bad breaks, this could have been a bottom-10 team. If this squad was to be at the bottom of the standings for a 5th consecutive season, Ducks’ faithful seemed okay with that so long as the younger players continued to develop and vibes were high.
The Ducks sit dead last in the NHL and have only managed a points % mark of .283 (the 31st ranked team has .333). They have been outscored 16-1 in their last 3 games. The younger players are either injured (Drysdale and Lundestrom) or doing everything they can to make an impact and growing visibly increasingly disheveled (Terry, Zegras, and McTavish). They don’t seem to be doing too much developing, as their team is getting blown out on a nightly basis. Vibes have hit a new low.
Where do we go from here?
The Ducks will continue their 5-game road trip with a stop in Montreal to take on the Habs on Thursday evening. We will continue to monitor the status of both John Gibson and Max Jones.