The NHL season is an 82-game, seven-month absolute grind; and that’s not even including the playoffs, which are a completely different animal. The playoffs, spanning two months from April to June, end with one championship team winning four best-of-seven series against the best competition in the league and hoisting the Stanley Cup over their collective heads in glorious victory. Some consider the Stanley Cup Playoffs to be a war of attrition: each team simply trying to outlast everyone else against injury and fatigue. In the Boston Bruins’ 2013 Cup run, Patrice Bergeron played with a separated shoulder, four broken ribs and a punctured lung; that sounds like a man with battle wounds to me. This week, I’m going to look at two teams in their run up to the 2015-16 playoffs, analyze their journey thus far and make some predictions on their fate in the months ahead.
So, let’s focus on two teams that found themselves at virtually opposite ends of the standings when they started the season: the Montreal Canadiens and the Anaheim Ducks.
I believe it’s safe to say that, thus far, the 2015-16 season has been the biggest disappointment any Canadiens fan could possibly dream of. Interestingly enough, they started the season as the hottest team in the NHL with nine consecutive wins. Their All-Star netminder, Carey Price, was a veritable brick wall in goal, their No. 1 defenseman, P.K. Subban, stifled the opposing offense, and their newly-elected captain, Max Pacioretty, led the team with authority. The Canadiens saw a bright season ahead of them, and a strong playoff push come April.
Oh my, how the mighty have fallen. Over the course of the season, they have gone from first in the league to 22nd out of 30. They managed to have the third-worst month in franchise history (they were founded in 1909), losing 11 of 14 games in the month of December and even refusing to award a Player of the month for January because they were all so bad. The injury to Price certainly sits front and center of their woes. However, even that does not explain the absolute abomination this season has been for them. Safe to say, I predict they will miss the playoffs by quite a large margin, and I suggest they take a serious look at the team’s identity and culture moving forward.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the Anaheim Ducks. With success in recent years and predictions for a long playoff run, the Ducks began the 2015-16 season with high hopes. However, after the first month of play, they found themselves in the absolute basement of the league. Unlike the Canadiens, Anaheim solved their early problems, and now sit atop their division, within spitting distance of the top of the entire league. Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf had the worst start to a season in his career, scoring just one goal in the first few months. While he still only has nine goals, he boasts 42 assists, giving him a team-leading 51 points in 59 games. Their star winger, Corey Perry, has 28 goals and 21 assists, placing him right behind Getzlaf with 49 points, and their defense has been performing well, giving the necessary support for team success. I do see the Ducks comfortably making the playoffs, but I question if the goaltending duo of Frederick Andersen and John Gibson have the skill and poise to support a deep playoff run. The importance of excellent goaltending for a Stanley Cup- winning team can never be overestimated, and that is something I might explore next week.
I think the 2015-16 trajectories of these two teams amply showcase the excitement and grueling intensity on display each season in the NHL. Every team is so talented, that not paying attention to every detail, coming prepared every single night, or having confidence in every member of your team, can cost you a playoff spot and lead you to a failure of a season.