Despite being destroyed by injuries early on this season, the Anaheim Ducks have remained in the playoff race almost purely on the back of stellar goaltending from both John Gibson and Ryan Miller. But through another wave of minor injuries to the Ducks roster that included a leg injury to Corey Perry and an upper body injury to Nick Ritchie, they have received huge reinforcements from Ryan Getzlaf, and now Ryan Kesler.
Kesler is not yet in the lineup, but considering he is traveling with the team on their current six game road trip that takes the team through the Christmas break, he will draw in a game soon. He has yet to play a game this season after undergoing surgery in June to remove bone fragments from his hip. His original estimate for a return was after Christmas, so he will be back a couple of games before he was expected to be.
Since the season opened, Kesler’s second line center role has been waiting for him. With Perry out, the exact lineups are up in the air at the moment, but he spent a majority of last year with Jakob Silfverberg on his right-wing. As for his left-wing, Andrew Cogliano has been playing that position on the second line, but when Adam Henrique was acquired in a trade it was implied he would be moving to the left-wing once the injuries faded. It is most likely Kesler will be flanked by either Henrique or Rakell, with the other player on Getzlaf’s left side.
The Ducks also get a boost in special teams with Kesler’s return. Last season Kesler had the third most power play time on ice per game among the forwards, and the most penalty kill time on ice per game among forwards. In the penalty kill department, Kesler spent an average of 2:43 per game on the PK. Only Cam Fowler spent more time per game at 2:45, and Kesler spent almost a minute more than the next player: Cogliano at 1:46 per game. Despite getting older, Kesler’s last season was his best since 2011. He was second in points with the Ducks last season, scoring 58 points in 82 games, second to Getzlaf only.
Kesler return will spark the Ducks. They lead the league in man games lost due to injury at the moment, but many teams are now underestimating the Ducks because of their record so far. When this roster can manage to get healthy again, they are good enough to challenge any team in the league. After all, they did make it to the Western Conference Finals last season with almost the exact same players. And this team is no stranger to slow starts.
Right now the Ducks are only one win out of both the third spot in the Pacific Division and the two Western Conference wild card spots. Despite all the bad luck the team has had this season, they are still very much in it. The Ducks are fighting to keep their five-season playoff streak alive, a streak in which they have won the Pacific Division all five times. If there’s anything motivating the Ducks right now, it is that the Los Angeles Kings would be the one to win the Pacific and break their streak. And that just can’t happen.