A quick look at the NHL's overall standings tells you that there's nothing at all for the Anaheim Ducks to worry about. After all, they're second in the entire NHL with 93 points from 66 games, having played in a division consisting of San Jose and Los Angeles, both of which are likewise in the league's top-8.
That is, on a number of levels, outright domination. So too is their plus-43 goal differential, which is sixth in the league, and that also goes for their 41 regulation or overtime wins from those 66 games, which is one back of the league lead held by the powerful Boston Bruins (both teams having won just two shootouts, and one of the Bruins' was actually against the Ducks).
And so while this current four-game losing streak on which they find themselves is uncomfortable — even to the point of having been massacred like livestock by the lowly Calgary Flames — it is, perhaps, understandable. Every good team goes through a rough stretch here and there over 82 games, and this is really only their second of the season; they lost five straight from Nov. 11 to 20, as four of those games were on the road. Doesn't erase the eight-game winning streak on which they forayed in the early part of the new year, nor the 10-gamer that all but closed it out. These were separated only by a single 3-1 road loss to the Sharks, which is understandable because San Jose has conceded 12 points in 33 home games this season, and that's the best home record in the league.
Yes, the Ducks actually went through a stretch in which they won 18 of 19 games, running from early December to mid-January, during which time they outscored their opponents 76-40 (or 4.05-2.11 per game). That really helps to get you a long way toward No. 2 in the league, because that's 36 of a possible 38 points, or fully 39 percent of their total from just 23 percent of their games.
So no, they can't be, at this point, particularly concerned about losing four straight, even if they were to Montreal, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Calgary, only one of which is any good at all. But what they should be very concerned with is how they've done not in the last week, but in the last month. Since their Stadium Series game, which they won 3-0 despite being dramatically outplayed by the Kings, they've won just four of 12. And this is something that's been coming down the river for quite some time.
In a lot of ways, you could say the game at Dodger Stadium was a microcosm of everything that had gone right for the Ducks up until that point.
Not that they were really being outpossessed most nights, because they weren't — and in fact still aren't for the balance of the season — but their numbers in this regard had been steadily trending downward from about 55 percent in early November, which you'll notice is quite a long time ago, to just 50.4 percent through the Calgary blitz. It's important to note here that a decent team is usually right around 50 percent in this regard, as you might expect, and elite ones are typically in the 55 percent range. On a 10-game rolling basis, the Ducks have spent a pretty hefty chunk of the season below 50 percent. The Stadium Series game was, perhaps, the logical conclusion to come against their far superior local rival.
So the question becomes one of how they kept winning to that point. The answer is “luck.”
Let's put it this way: Any team that wins 18 out of 19 games at any point in the season is by definition extremely lucky to have done so. It is so incredibly rare to win that much in that short a time that it's nearly impossible; by way of comparison, you would also have to say that the Chicago Blackhawks of last season were lucky to have taken points from 24 games in a row, let alone to have those games be the first two dozen of the season.
Anaheim has also been helped by the fact that five of its wins, and thus 10 of its points, have come in overtime, which is a fairly high number. By comparison, they've only suffered an OT loss once. And that too shows the Ducks have been extremely lucky.
But what, in hockey, does luck mean? It means that pucks are going into the net when you shoot it and staying out when the other team does, at a level that is far more than could reasonably expected. Remember that slump in November, when they lost five straight (and eight of 11)? Well it turns out that with the score close, their PDO — the addition of shooting percentage and save percentage, and a normal one is an even 100 — cratered during that time, and started to rebound not coincidentally right around the time that 18-in-19 streak began, peaking with a ludicrously high rating of 106.2 on Jan. 18.
The Ducks are second in the league in PDO overall at 103.1, behind only the Avalanche. They're only 15th in corsi percentage, at 49.7, in the same situation. Which isn't good, obviously.
What's really amazing is that the Ducks have done all this in essentially being a one-line team. Among Ducks with at least 50 games played, only four forwards have score-close corsis of more than 50 percent. Not surprisingly, the top two are Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who have been on the ice for more goals for at even strength than nearly the entire league (third and fifth among forwards, respectively). Their PDOs are both sky-high as well; Getzlaf is fourth at 104.5, Perry is 36th at 102.6, and former running buddy Dustin Penner — since traded to Washington, and the Ducks are 0-3-1 without him — leads the whole league at 104.8. Which is to say that they're putting the puck into the net at an absurd rate, and the rest of their team is very much not.
Think about it this way: How many Ducks forwards can you name besides those two?
For a team this successful, they're weirdly anonymous, and that's reflected in the numbers. Getzlaf and Perry have a combined 167 points, the next five guys still on the roster since the Penner trade have 172.
Tyler Dellow recently looked at team depth (and luck) vis a vis the number of goals scored when their first and second lines are on the ice versus their third and fourth, and Anaheim significantly outperforms what would otherwise be pretty underwhelming numbers in both regards.
Granted, Getzlaf and Perry are playing what are effectively the toughest minutes on the team, starting more than half their shifts outside the attacking zone against the absolute toughest competition available, so their possession numbers dragging a little bit isn't wholly on them. But it speaks to both their quality (and the lack thereof for the rest of the team) that Bruce Boudreau can't squeeze anyone else into more advantageous positions overall. The Ducks simply spend a lot more time in their own zone than any of the teams with comparable point totals, and that does not engender future success.
All of this, by the way, goes without mentioning the fact that the Ducks are of course going to be in a very comfortable position for the start of the playoffs, regardless of how many more games they lose. My guess would be they go about .500 the rest of the way; they have some real garbage left on that schedule, like Colorado (a team in the same boat as the Ducks in terms of being far worse than their record indicates) twice, Edmonton three times, Calgary, Winnipeg, Washington, Florida, and Nashville.
But once they actually get into the playoffs, and likely finish third in the Pacific, their lower-seeded opponent won't exactly have a tough out there. The Wild are moving in the right direction, and the Stars don't look like they'd be easy to handle. If I'm Boudreau I want no part of a Beauchemin-Lindholm pairing going up against Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, nor do I like the prospect of putting Getzlaf and Perry out there across from Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin for five, six, seven games.
The odds that this team advances out of either matchup seems low, and even if they do it, you'd have to guess their chances of advancing past one of St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Jose in the next round will probably vacillate between minimal and non-existent.
The regular season is so often a proving ground for teams to show a little bit more of their quality across 82 games than can be divined over 20-something in the playoffs, but it doesn't always work out that way. Even over a full 82, sometimes teams that are only kind of good, which is what Anaheim seems to be on the balance, can look great. Then the playoffs start, and you realize those Cup dreams of October and November and December and January were an illusion, and your team little more than a paper tiger. But there is one positive to take from this: The Ducks are shaping up to be one of the best also-rans in league history.
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