It has been a tale of two seasons for the Anaheim Ducks.
The first lasted 33 games all the way through to late December. The Ducks were struggling to stay afloat (not apologizing for that pun), dead last in the Western Conference at 12-15-6, they had been shut out seven times, averaged a league-worst 1.87 goals per game and questions about head coach Bruce Boudreau’s future with the team swirled.
The second began after the Christmas break when a new Ducks team emerged. Maybe it was a sprinkling of holiday cheer (a little Elf goes a long way), or the simple fact they had four full days to rest and hit the proverbial reset button, but in the 39 games since that break Anaheim has gone 28-8-3 and are hot on the trail of the Los Angeles Kings for first in the Pacific Division.
Getzlaf’s slow start and recent resurgence has mirrored that of the Ducks. Anaheim’s captain had just one goal in the first 33 games, but has 10 goals and 26 assists since.
“There was a lot of things that went into the start of the season that were a little bit complicated. Coming out of training camp we had a weird feeling about the team. I don’t know if we used training camp effectively to bring our group together,” Getzlaf explained. “From the personal side of it, I take a lot of that on my shoulders and I think I started overthinking things a little bit too much and you start struggling a little bit and the team struggles and it builds from there.”
After finishing tops in the West last season, coming one game shy of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, the current edition of the Ducks is finally performing like the team that entered the 2015-16 campaign as one of the odds-on favourites to win it all.
One thing that is different from last season, though, is the fact Getzlaf hasn’t spent nearly as much time playing on a line with his pal Corey Perry at even strength as he has in previous seasons.
“This is the first year where I felt like we have enough depth that we were able to split us up,” Getzlaf said. “Obviously [David Perron] and I have got a little chemistry and Rickard Rakell was ready to play some of those bigger minutes…it allowed us to have more depth in our organization.”
The fact they don’t share the ice on every shift hasn’t hindered their production of late. They’re the Ducks leading scorers yet again and Perry just notched his 30th goal of the season in a 4-3 loss to the Canadiens. It’s the sixth time in his career he has hit the 30-goal mark, which is why it was somewhat surprising the Team Canada staple was omitted from Canada’s initial 16-man World Cup of Hockey roster earlier this month. Getzlaf was named to the team.
“We talked a little bit…I know it affects him a little bit but most of the time he’s able to manage those things and use them [as motivation],” Getzlaf said. “I really have no doubt he’s going to be on that team. Obviously I would have liked to see him there right away.”
Regardless of whether or not Getzlaf and Perry are reunited on Team Canada, one thing is certain: the two will continue to be key cogs on the Ducks’ No. 1-ranked power play. In fact, the Ducks also have the league’s best penalty kill and can become just the fourth team since 1968-69 to lead the NHL in both power play and penalty kill percentage. This has been a major reason for the turnaround but Boudreau's group isn’t all about finesse. The Ducks also lead the league in fighting majors with 37.
Special teams should play a big role Thursday when the Ducks continue their Canadian road trip with a stop at the Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Maple Leafs are dressing young, inexperienced players these days as they continue their rebuild. They have the worst power play in the NHL and are a middle-of-the-pack penalty killing squad.
“These are tough games. These kids are coming up, trying to make an impression,” Getzlaf said. "It’s hard not to overlook certain things. We may have done that a little bit [Tuesday] in Montreal and not play exactly the way we wanted. That makes it tough when you’re playing these non-playoff teams at this point.”
So Ryan, how many current members of the Maple Leafs can you name?
“Oh, not that many,” Getzlaf added with a laugh. “I can’t name that many at the best of times though.”
Fans can watch the Ducks take on the Maple Leafs Thursday night on Sportsnet Ontario with coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET and follow along on our Live Tracker.