As Thanksgiving in the United States approaches, the Anaheim Ducks have a lot to be thankful for. Bruce Boudreau’s squad have collected 14 points in their last 11 games, moving them to within four points of a playoff spot.
But while the defending champions of the Pacific Division have rebounded from their less-than stellar 1-7-2 start to the season, will their struggles with scoring and consistency keep them from their fourth straight postseason appearance?
Tough Luck Ducks
Coming off a 2-2-0 road trip that culminated in a 5-0 shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Ducks could use a few more bounces going their way.
Despite being loaded with talent and playoff experience throughout the lineup, Anaheim has struggled to find the back of the net, scoring three or more goals nine times in 21 games. Through November 21, they’ve been blanked five times, with four of those shutouts coming on separate back-to-back occasions.
A year after boasting 10 different skaters with 30 or more points, the team has been relegated to just a single double digit point-scorer in Corey Perry, while captain Ryan Getzlaf, newcomer Carl Hagelin, and second-year center Ryan Kesler have combined for four goals.
“I’ve just got to do other things to help the team win right now,” said Kesler, per the O.C. Register, after Saturday’s 5-0 loss to Tampa Bay. “Stay positive. It’s going to break. You keep shooting. It’s the law of averages. It’s going to break and I’ll start scoring again.”
While Kesler has shown maturity and foresight in his recent assessment, the “law of averages” are not exclusive to him.
Anaheim’s brutally barren month of October not only placed them at the bottom of the league in scoring with a league-low 10 goals, they were also victimized by an even-strength 956 percent SPSv percentage, the lowest among all teams with no more than 10 games played.
Adding to their misfortune, Anaheim’s 2.7 percent five-on-five shooting percentage at that time trailed the New Jersey Devils by nearly two percent.
On Oct. 27, Dominik Luszczyszyn (The Hockey News) wrote:
To say they’ve been unlucky is putting things mildly. The Ducks have taken 223 shots so far this season and if their expected goals is around 19 than their shooting percentage should be around 8.7 percent. If every shot has an 8.7 percent chance of scoring on average, than the Ducks scoring just six goals on 223 shots will happen about 0.02 percent of the time. That’s insanely unlikely.
Since the start of November, those numbers have climbed, although not nearly to the point they’re expected to.
Through the month’s first 11 games, Anaheim’s even-strength shooting percentage of 4.5 percent is still 30th in the NHL, but now only trails Carolina in that department by less than half-a-percent, while their 968 percent SPSv percentage is the third lowest throughout the league in the span through November 1-22.
Through that time, the Ducks racked up a 6-3-2 record, scoring 28 goals, while improving from a 29th-ranked five-on-five scoring chances for percentage of 43.4 percent to a 17th-ranked 47.8 percent.
“Bruce was preaching that when good teams don’t get the reward they feel they deserve after a good effort, they come back the next game hungry and ready to go. I thought that was the case tonight,” said defenseman Cam Fowler after Nov. 19’s win over the Florida Panthers, via the OC Register. “I thought our guys were ready right from the drop of the puck.”
Despite wrapping up their recent road trip with a .500 record, the Ducks appear to be saying and doing the right things.
But even though the Ducks will play seven of their next eight games at home with the probabilities shifting in their favor, Boudreau’s battle-tested team cannot rely solely on analytics to right the ship in its entirety.
The Fickle Finish
While all teams take the ice on a nightly basis with the intentions of getting off to a fast start, perhaps no team has taken that approach to heart more than the Ducks.
Anaheim’s 15 first period goals tie them with the division-leading Los Angeles Kings for 17th throughout the league, while their 14 third period tallies leave them one back of San Jose and Detroit for 23rd.
When it comes to the second stanza, however, the Ducks have easily been the NHL’s worst scoring team, and it’s not even close.
SAD STAT: Fowler's goal was only the 8th goal the Ducks have scored in the 2nd period this season. Dead last in the NHL.
— Proud Gaucho Kyle (@ACKyleNicolas) November 20, 2015
Through November 22, their eight goals scored in the second period are not only dead last in the league, they also pit the Ducks as the only team without a double digit goal total. And although their third period efforts are better, their even goal differential hasn’t exactly given them a distinct edge.
Josh Cooper (Puck Daddy) writes:
Last season, the Ducks owned the third period, outscoring their opponents 85-71. This was a major part of their formula that led to them landing the Western Conference’s top seed in the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This season they’ve allowed 14 third period goals and scored the same amount.
While Boudreau’s group holds the league’s top penalty kill percentage at 88.2 percent, only the Calgary Flames have allowed more second period goals than Anaheim’s 28.
“When we’re at our best as a team — which has been at the start of games lately in the first period —- we’re aggressive on the forecheck, which allows us as D-men to be aggressive on the boards, and we’re able to hem teams in their own end and get a lot of opportunities that way,” added Fowler after a 4-1 defeat to the Islanders, per the L.A. Daily News.
“For whatever reason, I don’t know if it’s when we get leads or we just start playing a little safer, it seems we’re on our heels and we’re not attacking teams. We’re just defending all night. I’d like to see us play the same way, whether we’re tied, or behind or up a goal.
“We’ve still got to stay aggressive because that’s when we’re at our best.”
From a possession breakdown, those totals are all the more perplexing.
Anaheim’s five-on-five shots on goal differential of plus-1 makes them one of 14 teams to own a second period plus-rating, although their scoring chances for percentage of 45.5 percent in the second stanza is the fifth lowest percentage in the league.
Oilers outshoot the Ducks 10-6 in the 2nd period, scoring a PP goal. 2nd frame has been the Achilles heel of this Anaheim team.
— Julie Stewart-Binks (@JSB_FOX) November 12, 2015
Still, their scoring chances against per 60 minutes of 28.2, as it pertains to the second period, is lower than teams with higher success rates, such as Montreal, Pittsburgh, Washington, and the New York Rangers.
Such are the ebbs and flows of a grueling 82-game grind. But while all teams see their peaks and valleys, the Ducks still find themselves pressed to stack wins.
“Tough league, you’ve got to string wins together,” said captain Ryan Getzlaf, via CBS Sports. “Win one, lose one, those kind of things, it doesn’t build anything in the standings, it doesn’t build anything in the (locker) room.”
As the season marches forward, the evidence suggests the Ducks will build plenty. Until they actually do it, however, they remain a confusing mystery.