“Hockey-Life or Death Struggle-Here-There”
It’s crunch time in hockey, in the NHL and in the AHL, for the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks, and for the San Diego Gulls too.
It has not been an easy for the NHL clubs in LA and Orange County.
It’s been a hard season for our AHL team, too, and with mere days left in the season, all three teams are in scramble mode for wins, and fighting for their playoff lives.
The Kings, with a big money payroll, came flying out of the gate, then got players hurt, and stopped scoring. It has been a struggle,to score goals, but they are finding a resolve to stay in the fight.
The sun comes up this morning with the Kings in a 3-way tie for 6th place in the NHL Western Conference race, where 8-teams get to postseason. The Kings are at 86-points, tied with Colorado and the Ducks. 1-of them won’t make postseason.
Jeff Carter, out all season, with a severed calf muscle, has scored 8-goals in two weeks since his return, taking the burden off Anzi Kopitar, who has carried the team most of the year. They need offense to help a worn-out goalie Jon Quick.
The Ducks are in the hunt thanks to the emergence of Rikard Rakell, approaching stardom, with a near 40-type goal season. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are not what they were in years gone by, but that group with Jakub Silfverberg, has made Anaheim viable.
That the Ducks are in the race is a credit to an organization that survived a horrible injury siege coming out of camp. At one point, 5-defenseman and 5-forwards were out of the lineup with significant injuries. Ryan Kesler, coming off hip surgery, is back, but is not the same player.
So many injuries on the blue line, and yet the team has found the resolve to cope with key back end guys out for extended time. A banged up John Gibson in goal could have been a problem were it not for some strong outings from veteran Ryan Miller.
In San Diego, the Gulls have put together three quality years of AHL hockey. Coaching in the American League may be the toughest job in the world. Give Dallas Eakins credit for holding his team together, preaching team philosophy, and developing players.
Callups can kill a minor league team, as can injuries. And worse than that, having too many kids in a league that contains high draft picks, Euros, and some veteran players.
Scoring goals as been a struggle for the Gulls, but thanks to superb goaltending by veteran Reto Berra and young college net minder Kevin Boyle, the Gulls are still in a tie for 2nd place in their Pacific division. But there is a bunch, where only 4-teams here get to AHL postseason in a jam packed 30-team league.
It’s been hard for a wide variety of the kid forwards. Quebec League rookie Giovanni Fiore has 17-goals, an accomplishment for a young rookie. But the non-production of other young players has hurt Eakins firepower units.
College and junior players Mitch Hults (8G), Jules Nattiness (4G), Alex Dotsie (3G) and Austin Ortega (2G) have been overwhelmed with the level of AHL competition.
Hurting San Diego was the decision of the parent teams to deal away Eric Fehr (17G), the leading scorer, and Spencer Abbott (20Pts-17-Games) earlier in the season, robbing the Gulls of older experience.
Kalle Kossila and Kevin Roy have 23-goals between them, but neither is viewed as a sniper, more grinder. They need goals from somebody who can threaten a team nightly. It has not happened.
So we roll into the homestretch, with all 3-teams desperately needing wins to get to
The Kings-Ducks could make it, but one could fall out of the race. The Gulls should make it, but their ability to go deep in the playoffs will be directly related to the Ducks leaving players here, or sending more help in.
You can feel the pressure with every game they play at the Staples Center, Honda Center and Valley View Casino Center. It’s almost desperation time, as March turns to April.
These teams are in playoff mode already, and the playoffs have not even begun.