Streaking Ducks take on NHL’s worst team in Avalanche

January 17, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (15) shoots on goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at Honda Center. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks will seek to become vultures when they face the Colorado Avalanche, the NHL’s worst team, on Thursday night at the Honda Center.

The Ducks began 2017 with seven victories in their first nine games to take over first place in the Pacific Division. With 59 points, Anaheim owns the Western Conference’s third-best record.

Colorado, however, has won only four of its last 24 games and has the fewest points in the NHL, 27.

As a result, the Avalanche have decided to start planning for the future. Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, the team’s general manager, made it known that virtually every player on his roster is available for trade.

That includes the Avalanche’s two best veterans: center Matt Duchene, the team’s leading goal scorer, and left winger Gabriel Landeskog, the team captain.

“Right now, we’re not playing for a whole heck of a lot other than pride,” Duchene told the Denver Post.

Making matters worse is the fact that goalie Semyon Varlamov will not play until after the All-Star break, the Avalanche announced on Wednesday.

Varlamov sustained a groin injury Dec. 22 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He started three games since but lost all three while conceding 11 goals.

In his last start Tuesday night, Varlamov allowed five goals on 26 shots as the Chicago Blackhawks rallied from a 4-3 deficit for a 6-4 win.

Colorado defenseman Francois Beauchemin attributed the collapse to the “same story, a couple of turnovers and we don’t get the puck out.

We’ve got to learn. Enough is enough. We keep saying it and saying it. At one point, it’s going to have to stop.”

For the Ducks, the future is now, especially with such key players as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Kevin Bieksa ranging between 31 and 35.

But Kesler is on pace for 31 goals, his most in six years. Line mate Jakob Silfverberg, on pace for a career-best 28 goals, has quietly developed into one of the game’s best two-way players at 26.

Rickard Rakell, 23, is enjoying a breakout season that would end with 43 goals at his current scoring rate.

“Ricky can really hurt the opposition and make a contribution, and not really have a lot of chances,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said after Rakell scored the winning goal to give his team a 2-1 overtime victory Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“That’s the art of a guy who can snipe.”

Defensively, the Ducks have allowed no more than two goals in any of the last eight games.

Goalie John Gibson, 23, has permitted only 22 goals in his last 13 starts while going 8-1-4 with two shutouts.

Defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen own ratings of plus-8 and plus-6, respectively. Team defense enabled Anaheim to survive being out-shot 18-9 in the first two periods Tuesday night.

“We were boring; there’s no doubt about that,” Getzlaf said. “We’re playing a high-flying team and we’re trying not to turn the puck over and feed their offense.

“We tried to let them do all their little dipsy-doodles in the neutral zone and not give up too much.”