Mired in a nine-game losing streak, The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek wrote yesterday that this is a “critical time” for the Anaheim Ducks. While he notes that the Ducks have the unfortunate designation of leading the NHL in man-games lost this season, they were set to finally add top-pair defenseman Cam Fowler and first-line forward Rickard Rakell back into the lineup last night. The team hoped that the duo’s return would finally spark a win for a team that is as close to full health now as they have been all year.
It didn’t work out that way. Despite taking a 3-0 first period lead on the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ducks ended up losing 7-4 behind four unanswered Penguins goals in the third period in one of the more disheartening defeats that any team has faced this year.
Despite the optimism that injuries were the cause of their slump and a return to health would right the ship, Anaheim lost again last night for their tenth straight game without a win. The team has plummeted down the standings, now a whopping 12 points back of the final Pacific Division seed, held by the surging Vegas Golden Knights, and a point behind Minnesota for the final wild card spot, with the Wild holding two games in hand. The Ducks are one more loss away from being a .500 team and have slipped to a -27 in goal differential, not quite the numbers of a playoff-bound team. Anaheim is second-to-last in goals for per game, fueled by the fewest shots per game in the league on average, have an anemic 14.3% power play, and – despite the best efforts of starter John Gibson playing behind a porous defense of late – are a middle of the road goals against team.
Nothing seems to be working out for the Ducks and the early indications are that injuries are not entirely to blame. With a roster that has ample talent on paper, the blame then rationally falls onto the head coach, Randy Carlyle. Carlyle, in his third year of his second stint with Anaheim, has been unable to find the cure for what ails them this season. The team has struggled to score goals as well as prevent them, has not had success on special teams, and allows far too many shots, especially in light of how few they take themselves. The Ducks have lost three games in overtime during this stretch, as well as several more one-goal and two-goal games, as Carlyle has been unable to turn any game situation in his favor. Given the talent available for Anaheim – even accounting for the absences of Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves – the fact that Carlyle has not been able to get more out of the likes of Rakell, Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and more is alarming – and it may just cost him his job.
Duhatschek noted, even before last night’s embarrassing collapse, that change would be coming if the team could not get it together. He specifically refers to trades, as the team trends in the direction of “deadline seller” territory. Certainly, GM Bob Murray will need to consider moving impending free agent Silfverberg, as well as deal from his depth in goaltending and defense in the minors, but a roster move seems less likely to be the next big decision. Carlyle is absolutely on the hot seat and if he can’t find a way to motivate his players, solve his situational struggles, and string together some wins, he will likely be fired long before the Ducks begin making trades. As the team begins a five-game road trip, it begs the question whether Ducks fans will see Carlyle behind the home bench again this season.