They were a preseason favorite to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. For many pundits they were the favorite to win the whole thing.
Oh, how the Anaheim Ducks have not followed that script.
While last year they were a game away from the finals, losing to eventual champ Chicago in Game 7 at home, this year the Ducks are in a free fall from grace. The tumble continued Thursday with a 3-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in First Niagara Center.
They fired 44 shots on Chad Johnson and had three power-play opportunities. Nothing found the back of the net.
It was the sixth time this season the Ducks have been shut out. They have a league-low 55 goals on the season and have netted just five in their last five games.
There are plenty of questions about what happened to the Anaheim offense, but the Ducks have few answers.
“I think when things aren’t going your way and you’re not getting results and you’re not scoring goals, the chances that you do miss on are magnified,” said Ducks’ defenseman Cam Fowler. “And that’s exactly what’s happening right now. If our team was going through a normal stretch where we might have gone a game or two here or there being held to one or zero goals then this would be easier to kinda swipe under the rug and get onto the next day. But it’s been a consistent theme for us so now people are noticing.”
People are certainly noticing Ryan Getzlaf. The captain, who had 31 goals last year has one goal in 30 games – and that was an empty-netter.
“We don’t have enough hunger. We don’t have enough drive,” Getzlaf said. “Everything I think right now feels like we’re almost there. It was almost a nice play. In this league that’s not good enough.”
Johnson stopped everything the Ducks threw at him although of the 44 shots it seemed as if he was able to make regular, almost routine, saves on the majority of them.
While Getzlaf didn’t think the offense was trying to be “too cute” he did think the team lacked hunger at the net to generate second chances and finish plays.
“The finish hasn’t been there,” Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It seems like we hang on to the puck an extra second … and we pass when we should be shooting and shoot when we should pass. Maybe somebody was wide open and then when they get the opportunity it’s like they’re squeezing the stick so tight they can’t make a play.
“Quite frankly when your best players aren’t your best players you’re not going to win the game and that’s the bottom line. On too consistent a basis, our best players aren’t our best players.”
That’s a criticism Getzlaf heaps upon himself. When asked about a possible explanation for the lack of goal scoring, Getzlaf said, “I have one. It starts with me. I take a lot of it on my shoulders at times and when I’ve got one goal through the first 30 games, that’s not good enough. I can’t expect guys to follow if I don’t produce.”
Chris Stewart has a bit of experience playing on teams that struggle to score. He was a member of the Sabres for parts of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 season on teams which struggled to score and win.
Last year he was dealt by the Sabres at the trade deadline to the Minnesota Wild, then signed a one-year deal with the Ducks in the summer.
“I think obviously they’re a Stanley Cup contender and that played a big part of it. I wanted to win,” Stewart said on his decision to sign with the Ducks. “I probably sacrificed a little bit coming here but I wanted to win and I still have a good feeling about this team.”
Stewart has five goals and nine points for the Ducks and sees his role as similar to his time in Buffalo.
“I’m up and down the lineup depending on who’s healthy,” Stewart said. “I’ve been on the power play and gotten some looks, but to be a winning team we need four lines that can play and I’ve just got to pull my weight.”
In Thursday’s game, Stewart was a minus-2, taking one shot in 8:25 of ice time.
With an assist on Buffalo’s third goal, Rasmus Ristolainen became the first Sabres’ defenseman to record 19 points in a 20-game span since Garry Galley did so from Feb. 21, 1996, to April 3, 1996. … After killing off three power plays, the Sabres’ penalty kill improved to 24 for 28 (85.7 percent) in its last 13 games. … Buffalo went 0 for 3 on the power play and is now 0 for 9 in its last three games.