Coming off a three-day break, the Ducks will vault into two games in two nights and in two cities, as they travel to San Jose to play the Sharks on Saturday and then return home to face the New York Rangers on Sunday.
Saturday’s game will effectively close their longest road trip of the campaign, which could end with a respectable. 500 points percentage if they manage to defeat another one of the NHL’s worst teams by record. Then they’ll host a Rangers club that will have played the emotional front end of a back-to-back when Jonathan Quick returns to Crypto.com Arena to face the Kings on Saturday, though the Ducks are more likely to be pitted against 2022 Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin.
Rather than fixating on the opposition heavily, the Ducks were seeking to establish and reinforce sound habits while creating more fluidity in their game.
“We are focusing on our growth as a group. We need to establish more consistency offensively and defensively, as was evident in the last four games,” Coach Greg Cronin said via text message.
The Ducks have implemented some fresh wrinkles to improve their flow and menace, using at least one forward to support the puck low with another wing wide awaiting a pass to stretch space, create speed and generate attack opportunities as well as forecheck pressure.
“With our breakout, exits are a key part of our ability to defend less and attack more,” Cronin said.
They played one of the stronger defensive teams in the NHL in Washington on Tuesday and came up empty in a tight-checking 2-0 loss to the Capitals, but in their two victories on the trip they stacked up five goals in each contest. In San Jose, they’ll face the team with most goals allowed, the fewest goals scored and the lowest points total in the NHL standings.
Undrafted UMass standout turned NHL All-Star Frank Vatrano has led the Ducks in scoring during the trip and has been the only scoring forward they’ve had who hasn’t missed some significant time to injury. During the road trip, he has five points across five games, including a pair of power-play goals.
The Sharks lost 11 consecutive games and now have started a new winless streak of three games and counting. Tomas Hertl and Mikael Granlund (who is out with an upper-body injury) are the only players on their roster who are averaging even half a point per game. They should get a major lift on Saturday when Logan Couture makes his season debut. The veteran forward had 67 points and played in all 82 games for the lowly Sharks last season, but the man who once took a puck to the face and played with his mouth wired shut has missed 45 games due to a lower-body injury.
By contrast, the Rangers have been the class of the Metropolitan Division this season, with the “Bread Man” Artemi Panarin and former Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox spearheading the charge offensively. Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck and Mika Zibanejad are merely among the top five Rangers in scoring, but would all lead the Ducks with their respective totals.
DUCKS AT SAN JOSE
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: SAP Center
TV: Bally Sports SoCal
NY RANGERS AT DUCKS
When: Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Honda Center
TV: Bally Sports SoCal