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Ducks Return to Full Strength Against Kings

(The Anaheim Ducks’ Ondřej Kaše out battles the Los Angeles Kings’ Tanner Pearson for a puck. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG.)

When Ondřej Kaše returns to Anaheim’s lineup Saturday night to face the Los Angeles Kings, the Ducks will finally complete their long-awaited return to full strength. It will be the first game this season in which all of Anaheim’s starters were available.

Well, almost. Patrick Eaves will not play, and sadly, will probably not return this season as he suffers from a serious ailment (for more details on that, please see the note at the bottom of this article), but the Ducks theoretically replaced him or even upgraded when they traded for Adam Henrique.

Henrique is arguably an even better all-around player than is Eaves, as although Eaves put up incredible offensive numbers last season, Henrique is a better puck handler, playmaker, defensive player, and penalty killer. Henrique has played in 18 games for Anaheim, and has tallied five goals, four assists, nine points, 19 blocked shots, and 13 takeaways, and is a plus-1.

So far this season, the Ducks have totaled 235 man-games lost due to injury, the highest by far in the NHL. That is 235 in 43 games or 5.47 per game. Meaning, that is as if for each and every game this season more than five players were sidelined due to injury. That staggering amount would be bad enough if those five-plus guys were seldom used, but in the Ducks’ case, eight of the nine forwards playing on their top three lines each missed at least five games, while five of Anaheim’s top six defensemen missed action as did both of the Ducks’ goalies.

It is almost a miracle that Anaheim is even alive in the playoff race. With all of those setbacks, the Ducks should have been buried in last place, battling for the rights to select Rasmus Dahlin or Brady Tkachuk (both of whom played spectacularly in the World Junior Championship) in the upcoming draft.

With Corey Perry having returned, the superstar right winger needs to be reunited with Henrique and Rickard Rakell, who all played well together when they formed a line earlier this season. That could be considered the Ducks’ new top line. Rakell should center it, while Henrique who shoots left-handed should slide over to the left wing.

(Corey Perry scores on Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick during an overtime shootout. Photo courtesy of Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press.)

Ryan Kesler returned to the roster and re-established his patented shutdown trio with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg that as a threesome formed the most consistent Anaheim line last season. And, Ryan Getzlaf is naturally a candidate for top-line consideration regardless of who are his wingers. They should be Kaše who shoots righty as his right wing, and Nick Ritchie who shoots lefty as his left wing.

Those are three stacked lines with each containing right-handed right wings and left-handed left wings.

Antoine Vermette should center the fourth line, with righty Chris Wagner as his RW, and rookie Kevin Roy, a lefty, as his LW. Vermette has no business playing on the top three lines as the Ducks have better offensive weapons than him to generate scoring. Now that the team is back to full strength, Vermette’s role should be focused primarily on killing penalties and winning key defensive faceoffs. I cringe when I see him playing alongside Getzlaf, and on power plays. And, don’t even get me started when Vermette appears on the ice during overtime 3-on-3s.

Speaking of playing left wing for Getzlaf, Ritchie’s numbers have been relatively low this season. If Ritchie were to play alongside Getzlaf and still not produce better numbers, then he should be dropped to the fourth line, and Roy should take Ritchie’s place alongside the captain.

Derek Grant and Logan Shaw should be the healthy scratches. Someone, please remind me why Shaw is even on the team and what purpose he serves. I see him as being expendable now that the team is back to full strength. So, the Ducks should trade him, and keep Grant. Grant is a good center should Anaheim need a replacement. Whereas, the Ducks have loads of wingers they can call up from San Diego in a pinch.

However, in an almost predictable Anaheim management move, the Ducks sent Roy back to the AHL. Ridiculous. Especially ridiculous when they replaced him with Jared Boll who is a liability on the ice. The Ducks like Boll because he fights, but he never wins his fights. As such, Boll is a waste of roster space. When Boll drops his mitts Saturday night, and one of the Kings serves him his behind, you heard it here first.

It is also time to waive worthless defenseman Korbinian Holzer, and convince old man François Beauchemin to retire. Anaheim needs to pair Josh Manson with Cam Fowler, and Brandon Montour with Hampus Lindholm (as per what I wrote in Top 10 Anaheim Defensemen of All-Time. The third pair should be Jaycob Megna and Andy Welinski, while Kevin Bieksa can be the healthy scratch. Give the young guys a chance. It is time for some fresh blood.

Anaheim has reached its half-way point of the season, having played 43 of 82 games, and boasts an above-.500 record of 19-15-9 for 47 points. The Ducks have dug a deep hole for themselves in the Pacific Division standings, but they still have almost the entire second half of the season to catch the San Jose Sharks for no. 3 and clinch a playoff berth, and the Kings for the no. 2 spot to clinch home advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Catching the no. 1 Vegas Golden Knights seems out of reach this late into the season, unfortunately.

Defeating the Kings in regulation on Saturday can go a long way toward reaching that goal of overtaking LA. The Ducks have not beaten LA this season, but the Kings have not faced the Ducks at full strength, either. So far, LA has only played against what amounted to the San Diego Gulls. Having Getzlaf, Perry, Rakell, Kesler, Henrique, Silfverberg, Manson, Lindholm, and Fowler and company all on the ice will be a whole other story, as Anaheim’s starters have dominated the Kings. LA will likely use goalie Jonathan Quick whom Anaheim faced 16 times during the past five regular seasons including this one, and racked up an impressive 10-3-3 record against him. The Ducks look to make it 11-3-3. Until then, let’s go Ducks!

Note: Eaves suffers from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder that causes the immune system to attack the peripheral nerves. My doctor who specializes in infectious diseases at Cedars Sinai Medical Center told me that Guillain-Barré syndrome is curable and that he is optimistic Eaves will fully recover and return to the Ducks’ lineup. The only question is how long will that take? My doctor said to expect a very slow recovery.

(Photo courtesy of Sporting News.)

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