Things are definitely looking up for the Anaheim Ducks. Since Randy Carlyle was fired as head coach and Bob Murray assumed his role behind the bench the Ducks have won two of three games. As we’ve pointed out in the past despite all of Anaheim’s struggles they’re still not out of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference. Anaheim has 23 games remaining including tonight’s contest and trail the Minnesota Wild for the 8th and final playoff spot by 5 points. More good news–with the exception of the suddenly red hot Chicago Blackhawks (8-2-0 L10) none of the teams between them and the Wild are playing very well either.
For that matter, neither are the Wild. Minnesota has lost 4 straight games with a record of 2-5-3 in their last 10. Since the first of February they’ve only got a single victory (2/9 at New Jersey) and are dealing with a ton of injuries. Mikko Koivu is out for the season. Two more centers–Victor Rask and Matt Hendricks–are listed as ‘questionable’ for this game. The Wild did get some good news on the injury front with winger Pontus Aberg activated off of the IR list for this game. Of course, it’s worth noting that Aberg was playing terrible hockey before he went out with an injury. He hadn’t scored a goal in 12 games with only 19 shots, a pair of assists and a -11 rating in that stretch. For now, he’s going to be on the third or fourth line.
Anaheim is healthy for the most part. The biggest issue had been goaltending with both John Gibson and Chad Johnson in the IR but with Ryan Miller back in the lineup and the emergence of Kevin Boyle out of nowhere things aren’t in bad shape now. Miller looked decent in his first start back on Sunday and the Ducks beat the Washington Capitals 5-2. In the process, Miller became the all time leader in wins by a US born goaltender.
To be sure, the Ducks have some serious long term roster concerns that they’ll have to address in the offseason. Their long time nucleus is aging with Ryan Getzlaf (33), Ryan Kessler (34) and Corey Perry (33) no longer in their prime. They need an injection of youth up front but the reality is that this is a not too bad hockey team that just needed a few good things to happen for them. It’s doubtful that Bob Murray will want to become the full time head coach but the mood on the Ducks’ bench has improved significantly in the past week. Murray might not even be searching for a new coach–the word is that current San Diego Gulls coach Dallas Eakins will get the full time job.
The Ducks may not make the playoffs but for the near term at least they’re a team I’ll be looking to play on. They’re still viewed as ‘damaged goods’ by the public and that’s evidenced by tonight’s line. There’s no way that a flatlining Minnesota team should be favored -220 over anyone at this point. The Wild have lost a ton of money for their financial backers at the Xcel Energy Center with a 13-12-5 record translating into a loss of -14.5 units. This is the Wild’s first road game under their interim head coach and the fact that they’re playing the current #8 playoff seed should get them some focus. At any rate, they’re clearly the value play here.