For the majority of the season the Anaheim Ducks have been squarely in my “biggest disappointment” column. It’s a, well, pretty disappointing column where they have occupied a space with the Columbus Blue Jackets (who I thought could be in a playoff race this year), the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals.
That’s not to say the Ducks didn’t have question marks, as I was concerned about their blueline’s lack of depth and track record, as well as how Jonas Hiller would perform one year removed from extensive vertigo issues. Letting Ray Emery walk was a risk that I personally wouldn’t be willing to take, and the Ducks did just that in the offseason. Hiller returned though with his relative health in tow, and the Ducks were off.
For what it’s worth, I’d take their top three players (Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan) against any top three in hockey except for (a healthy) Pittsburgh’s. I also love watching Hiller play in net. He’s a goalie who finds a way to toe the line of exciting and confidence inspiring, which is not always the case in modern ‘tenders. It seems as though for a goalie to be exciting they need to be partial to the blowup from time to time, but I always feel as though an Anaheim lead is safe with Hiller between the pipes.
Things didn’t start very well for Anaheim, Randy Carlyle got canned, Hiller looked like a shade of his Vezina contender self and there were no answers to be found through half of the season.
Fast forward to now and Bruce Boudreau is their coach, Hiller is back to normal and they’re very much in the playoff discussion. Hiller talked to Lisa Dillman of the L.A. Times about how a change in atmosphere is bringing about different results for the Ducks.
“The biggest difference right now is everybody believes we can win, which I felt really wasn’t the case in October and November,” Hiller said. “If we were scored on, we were always worried about losing a game and never seemed to be really comfortable out there. We never went out there with the mind-set that no matter who we played, we can beat them.
“Now it seems like we’re going out there and we don’t worry who is playing against us. These days, that’s the difference. We found a way to get closer together as a team.”
“We pretty much have to win every game. We can’t have a cold streak,” Hiller said. “We had a long enough cold streak this year.”
“We sometimes felt we have a good team, so things should pay off and go our way,” Hiller said. “Which was not the case.”
“You can’t expect somebody new to come in after you’ve been with the same coach for so many years,” Hiller said. “You can’t expect [change] to happen from one day to the next.
“For Bruce, it was important to get some confidence back in the team. It felt like before we didn’t trust each other. We didn’t trust ourselves. We didn’t have that confidence, and you can’t play like that in this league. He found a way to show us the good things we did — even if we lost. Then we started winning and it snowballed.”
With all of these notes in mind, the Ducks are a really dangerous team down the stretch run. They’re picking up points all over the place and really closing the gap on the teams in front of them. Quite frankly, if they make it in I wouldn’t be afraid to pick them to win a series or two. Sure, roll your eyes, but think about it.
Would you want to play the Ducks?
This is a team that, just a few weeks ago, was in contention for the first overall draft pick. They have absolutely nothing to lose because they had no idea they’d be there. They scratched and clawed their way into the postseason. They have some of the best high end talent in the league between their big three and Teemu Selanne, who Hiller discusses in the above article, and they have one of the most talented goaltenders in the NHL. Sure, they have their weaknesses but I’ll always take the hot team with a hot goaltender. Right now, that could very well be the Anaheim Ducks.
For you regular listeners of the Backhand Shelf podcast, you know our venerable editor Justin Bourne picked the Ducks to make the playoffs when this run was in its infancy. Here we are and they’re seven points out of eighth place.
In a couple weeks we may not be talking about if they’re going to make the playoffs, we may be talking about how many rounds they’re going to win. What a great story that would be.