The Anaheim Ducks (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Ducks had four points after 10 games and had been shutout five times. But Anaheim has battled through their troublesome start and could challenge the Los Angeles Kings for the Pacific Division title. And the Ducks might not stop there.
No one was exactly writing the Ducks off when they started the season 1-7-2. There was too much season left to play. But Anaheim had collected just four points in 10 games and were tied with the woeful Columbus Blue Jackets as the worst team in the league, the Ducks had been shutout five times, their offense was almost non-existent and it looked as though the only way back to the post-season might be with a wild-card spot.
But since those disastrous first 10 games, the Ducks have been an entirely different team. They’ve played smothering defense, their offense has come to life enough to keep Anaheim in the win column and coach Bruce Boudreau has his team playing a solid puck possession game that’s up there with the league’s elite. It’s no wonder, then, that since Nov. 1 the Ducks actually have the fifth-best record in the entire NHL.
The Ducks have been so good, in fact, that it might be time to start wondering if the Los Angeles Kings are a lock to finish the season as the Pacific Division champions after all. And maybe a mid-season prediction the Ducks would make it to the Western Conference final doesn’t seem so bold after all.
Anaheim overtaking the Kings isn’t far-fetched. Both the Kings and Ducks have 27 games remaining in their campaigns and Anaheim only trails Los Angeles by five points for first in the Pacific. If that alone won’t make the race to the finish contested enough, the Kings and Ducks have three contests remaining in the season. The Kings can win the division by trading wins and losses with the Ducks, but should Anaheim heat up further — and Anaheim is the second-hottest team over the past 10 games — they could be in Los Angeles’ rearview before the month is out.
None of that’s to mention the Kings are currently battling through a stretch without netminder Jonathan Quick and winger Marian Gaborik could be gone for the bulk of the Los Angeles remaining contests.
It shouldn’t really be all that surprising that the Ducks have this shot at winning the Pacific, though, because, barring their ugly start to the season, everything has pointed to Anaheim being one of the league’s best teams. All it took was a correction on offense for the Ducks’ strength to become evident.
During the ugly early season stretch where it seemed impossible for Anaheim to produce anything, they mustered 10 goals at 5-on-5 and had what the league’s worst shooting percentage at 4.1 percent. It’s not as if the low shooting percentage was dragged down by the depth players, either. Truthfully, it was the depth players that kept Anaheim afloat early in the year.
In those first 10 games, the three highest-paid players on the Ducks — Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler — combined for five points. Not five points each. Five points. Total. And not a single one of those points was a goal. In fact, it took until Perry until the 12th game of the season to score his first goal. Getzlaf scored in his 14th game, six games after returning from an appendectomy that caused him to miss four games. And Kesler didn’t score until game 15. No matter how well the Ducks played defensively, they weren’t going to win without contributions from their top players.
But since Nov. 1, Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler have combined for 39 of the 119 goals the Ducks have scored. That is almost exactly one-third of the team’s goals. And at 5-on-5, the trio accounts for 19 of the 75 goals the Ducks have scored during this incredible turnaround, which is more than 25 percent. The contributions from Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler have been aided by continued depth scoring, including goal a healthy dose of offense from the likes of Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg and defenseman Sami Vatanen.
The Ducks’ overall shooting percentage hasn’t seen a massive change, really, but its increase to 6.8 percent is healthy enough that the results have been evident. It seemed like only a matter of time before the offense came to life, too, because the Ducks’ possession game has been exceptional. Since Nov. 1, only two teams have a better shot attempts for percentage at 5-on-5 than Anaheim 53.8 percent mark: the Kings and Predators, and Nashville is only ahead of Anaheim by a mere 0.1 percent.
And when the opposition is generating chances, they come few and far between. Since Nov. 1, Anaheim’s staunch defense has given up only 9.5 high-danger scoring chances — think the slot-area — per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Only the Predators and New Jersey Devils have been more stingy over that same period. The Kings, too, are good, but average nearly have a change more per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 than the Ducks.
None of this is to take away, either, from the emergence of goaltender John Gibson. While he’s currently on the sideline, Gibson played himself into the All-Star Game with an 11-7-2 record, 1.91 goals-against average and .923 save percentage before the break. That was leaps ahead of the way Frederik Andersen had played, and he had taken a backseat to the younger Gibson due to a 7-8-5 record, 2.40 GAA and .915 SP. Post all-star break, Gibson has stumbled. Not much, but enough that he saw consecutive games in backup duty before falling injured Feb. 13 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The fact is, though, neither goaltender has been great. But on a Ducks team is formidable at possessing the puck, neither Gibson nor Andersen needs to be great. They simply need to be serviceable. Both have been, and they’ve played a part in Anaheim’s success by making the necessary stops.
With the way Anaheim has been playing — offensively, defensively and in goal — it’s hard to fathom there were calls for Boudreau to be let go earlier in the campaign. Because it’s starting to seem increasingly likely that the Ducks might not stop at winning the Pacific Division or getting out of the Western Conference. If they keep trending in this direction, they could be Stanley Cup champions at season’s end.
(All statistics via War-On-Ice.com)