© Matt Masin/The Orange County Register via AP
Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, right, tries to keep possession of the puck as Montreal's Jacob De La Rose tries to steal it away during the second period at the Honda Center on Wednesday, March 2, 2016, in Anaheim. Anaheim beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Wednesday night for its ninth consecutive victory.
Tapped by some experts as a Stanley Cup favourite this season, the Anaheim Ducks sank to dead last in the Western Conference standings by mid-December. Though only three points out of a wild-card berth, they were in danger of falling completely out of playoff contention.
Since the Christmas break, however, the Ducks are the NHL’s hottest team. Entering Monday’s game against the Washington Capitals, they won an incredible 25 of their last 32 games, including a franchise-record 11 straight heading into their tilt with the Capitals.
Solid goaltending and defensive depth played significant roles in their impressive recovery, but rejuvenating their sagging offence was the biggest factor. Three months ago, they were the league’s lowest-scoring team. Since then, superstar forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry rediscovered their offensive mojo, while the addition of winger David Perron in a mid-season trade also boosted their production.
As a result, the Ducks flew out of the conference basement to roost atop the Pacific Division.
Now hot on the heels of the conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars, the Ducks finally look like a serious Cup contender.
The New York Rangers didn’t part with much to acquire centre Eric Staal from the Carolina Hurricanes before the recent NHL trade deadline, giving up two second-round draft picks and a prospect. If they believe he’s the missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle, they could be disappointed.
From 2005-06 to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, Staal was unquestionably among the NHL’s elite centres. He carried the Hurricanes’ offence, leading them to a championship in 2006 and the Eastern Conference final in 2009. He had seven straight years with 70-plus points.
Since 2013, however, Staal’s production has steadily declined. Prior to being acquired by the Rangers, the 31-year-old pivot had only 33 points in 63 games. It took four games before he tallied his first points with his new club.
At this stage in his career, Staal’s best years are behind him. It remains to be seen if his production significantly improves with the Rangers. If it doesn’t, he won’t be much help to their championship hopes this spring.
When Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid returned to action Feb. 2 after missing three months to a broken clavicle, it was assumed he stood no chance of winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He missed too many games and was too far behind in the rookie’s scoring race to catch the leaders.
But in the 17 games since his return, the 19-year-old McDavid was the league’s hottest scorer. He tallied 22 points during the stretch, raising his total to 34 on the season. He entered this week only nine points behind Arizona Coyotes winger Max Domi for third place among rookie scorers.
Not enough time remains in the season for McDavid to overtake Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin, who leads all rookies by a wide margin with 61 points. However, the young Oilers centre is playing himself back into the Calder Trophy discussion.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with The Hockey News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.