After failing to make the playoffs last season with a 13th place finish in the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks have stormed out of the gate this season to find themselves holding the top spot in the Pacific Division and the second overall spot in the West at roughly the quarter-season mark. Even more remarkable is where on the roster their success is stemming from.
At 42-years-old, Teemu Selanne continues to defy all notions about the correlation between an increase in age and a decline in production. Selanne, who debuted with the Winnipeg Jets in 1992, has scored 20 or more goals in each of his last four seasons, including a 26-goal, 40-assist performance last year with the Ducks. Each summer after the season ends, fans wonder if they just witnessed the end of the career of “The Finish Flash.” And every time that Selanne decided to lace them up for one more season, he again wows spectators with his ability to defy age.
Selanne currently leads the Ducks with 14 points in 11 games. His 10 assists lead the team while his four goals puts him one shy of team leader Daniel Winnik.
But Selanne isn’t the only veteran stepping up his game to help Anaheim achieve early success. Saku Koivu, who was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, currently sits second on the team in points with 13 in 11 games. The 38-year-old Koivu also boasts a team-leading plus-11.
The achievements of Selanne and Koivu are even more impressive when compared to the fact that they are outperforming younger susperstars like Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry. Ryan has rebounded from a slow start to the season and is currently third in team scoring behind Selanne and Koivu, while Getzlaf is fourth. But 27-year-old Corey Perry, who is two years removed from a 50-goal season, has struggled to find the back of the net and only has one goal so far this season. Regardless, the team still finds themselves as an offensive leader in the league with a 3.36 goals per game average – good enough for third best in the league.
On the blue line, Sheldon Souray is paying immediate dividends as an off-season free agent signing with four goals and seven assists. Souray is also a plus-10 on the season thus far, although Souray has widely been a minus player for much of his career.
The Ducks are also enjoying a pleasant surprise in goaltender Viktor Fasth, who came in as relief for a struggling Jonas Hiller. Fasth has won all five his starts this season and boasts a 1.72 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. While a full-blown goalie controversy hasn’t emerged yet in Anaheim, where Hiller is currently day-to-day with an injury, Fasth is certainly making a case to get more starts and perhaps overtake the top job from Hiller.
It will be interesting to see what the Ducks do when the trade deadline approaches this year, as both Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. With Getzlaf’s size and Perry’s history of scoring, the team could potentially get a significant return for either player. If the Ducks are holding onto a playoff spot when the deadline comes around, however, it wouldn’t be surprising if the team holds onto both players. Then the more likely scenario would be that one or both is moved at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft if contract negotiations aren’t progressing well, although the return would probably be diminished from what the team could get for either player at the trade deadline.
In a regular season, most coaches will tell you that the quarter-mark of the season is when you begin to see the playoff teams sort themselves out from the non-contenders. While things are certainly closer in the NHL now, especially in the lockout-shortened season where points already appear to be tougher to come by, the Ducks have already set themselves apart and look poised to make another run at the playoffs with Selanne and Koivu leading the way. The team is dangerous offensively, but if Perry reclaims his goal-scoring touch then look it. The season is only a quarter over, but the Ducks are making a strong case to be a feared team in the West.