ANAHEIM — The Ducks reached the midway point of their pandemic-shortened, 56-game season Friday.
Twenty-eight down, 28 to go.
“You want to stay neutral, you want to stay even-keeled, but I think it’s been one hell of a roller-coaster ride, not only for the team, but for individuals,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “I think we’ve faced a lot of adversity. I think our record to very easily be very, very different.”
The challenges have been numerous and there’s no sign of a letup the rest of the way.
For one thing, it’s far-fetched to think the Ducks will rally to win the West Division. A playoff berth remains a mathematical possibility, but that also seems unlikely based on what’s happened in the first half of the season. Merely keeping some players healthy and in the lineup was a chore.
Building and maintaining leads has been problematic.
Scoring goals has proved difficult.
To be sure, there’s been signs of progress, particularly as left wing Max Comtois and right wing Rickard Rakell have battled for the team’s scoring lead. Comtois (nine goals, 10 assists) and Rakell (six goals, 13 assists) each had 19 points going into Friday’s game against San Jose.
Lessons have been learned, although perhaps not learned sufficiently.
“What’s being reaffirmed to everyone is there’s a certain way we have to play as an organization,” Eakins said. “When we play that way, not only can we be in every game, we can have a chance to win every game and have a winning record.
“As soon as we come off of it, we’re not going to get the results we want. So, I think there’s been great lessons. But we’re firmly a team, for sure, that has to play a full 60, a full 65, a full 65 plus a shootout to gain success. Any lapses of reason in between that, we’re just not there to survive it yet.
“Yet, being a key word.”
Although the Ducks have been plagued by injuries this season, including those suffered by key players such as defensemen Hampus Lindholm (fractured wrist) and Josh Manson (strained oblique), they have managed to avoid COVID-19 issues.
Several of the Ducks’ games have been rescheduled, but that’s been to accommodate opponents. As of Friday, the Ducks were one of the few teams in the NHL without any players placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 list of players unavailable to play.
“I think the biggest surprise has little to do with hockey,” Eakins said. “It has everything to do with protocol and habit, from the distancing to the masks to how easily our guys have been adapting to the ever-changing rules and protocols we have. I’ve been so, so impressed by it.
“I think it’s really easy to become comfortable when you’re around the same group all the time and you’re kind of in your own little bubble, but the amount the guys respect each other and look after each other in that regard, I did think that was going to be harder to sell.
“I thought it was going to be harder to implement, but these guys have been amazing.”
Left wing Nicolas Deslauriers said it’s all part of being a professional.
“We’ve been following everything,” he said. “You wear your mask every time. I think the only time I don’t wear mine is in the car and then at home. I think everybody’s been on the same page. It’s just following the rules and respecting them. We’re a mature team that does it well.”
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