Why the Anaheim Ducks got hot (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert
Why the Anaheim Ducks got hot (Trending Topics)

You wouldn't know it these days, with Anaheim sitting at 10-3-1 in its last 14, but this team was awful not so long ago. 

The Ducks started the year 12-15-6, and as of Dec. 22, right before the Christmas break, they were dead last in the Pacific, tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the lowest point total in the entire NHL. Since then they've added 21 points in 14 games — a pace for 123 points — after amassing 29 in the first 32.

They enter they All-Star break two points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand on the Arizona Coyotes.

Remember, this was the team picked by almost everyone to walk away with a Presidents' Trophy this season, given the high-quality roster that was actually upgraded over the summer, the brilliant coach, and the easy division. There was little doubt that this club and the Washington Capitals were the most likely to be setting themselves up for a Stanley Cup showdown.

And then this:

Garbage numbers across the board, really. All of those offensive difficulties were explained a little more in-depth here, right after Christmas, but suffice it to say that this was a case of colossally bad luck, especially where Ryan Getzlaf — who often drives the bus in attack for the Ducks — is concerned. 

But here's the thing: The Ducks are as good as many people expected them to be (perhaps a little better), and Getzlaf still isn't scoring. No goals at 5-on-5 in the 14 games since the break, and an on-ice shooting percentage of just 6.6 percent. 

Nonetheless, the Ducks have their 5-on-5 goals per 60 is up by almost half (to 2.2), while they've cut their goals-against per 60 to 1.8. Those still aren't great numbers in the grand scheme of things, league-wide, but they are a substantial improvement. Indeed, their goals-for percentage in the last 14 games is up to 54.5 percent, good for seventh in the league over that stretch. But what's interesting is that their team shooting and save percentage are still relatively in the toilet, at 6.7 percent and .925, respectively (and rank tied-for-17th and 20th, also respectively).

This is a team that long sustained a super-high shooting percentage — over the course of seasons — largely because of the ability of Getzlaf and Corey Perry to absolutely pour pucks into the net almost at will. From 2011 through last season, the Ducks never had a 5-on-5 shooting success rate of less than 8.1 percent, which is fairly high. The save percentage can be explained, to a certain extent, by the fact that the Ducks don't have goalies who are all that great, but they're probably better than what they've shown so far this year.

So the question is, “What else has changed?” Anyone watching Ducks games know they've changed their approach to be far more restrictive in the neutral zone, and teams are no longer getting anywhere near the net against them. Complain about the trap all you want, but when it's done right, by the kinds of high-quality players dotting Anaheim's roster — and New Jersey's, way back when — you're going to be able to successfully suffocate your opponents on a consistent basis.

Indeed, when Bruce Boudreau saw his team dominating in possession on a nightly basis but not getting the goals by playing run-and-gun and turning every game into a track meet (the coach's successful strategy last season and when his Washington teams were out-of-this-world good), he figured something had to change. If they couldn't get results the way they used to, they would get them by freezing out the other teams altogether. Complete abandonment by the shooting-percentage gods or not, the Ducks have the talent to score two goals every night with ease. 

They have 38 goals in the last 14 games, which equals 2.7 per game since Christmas, but 10 of those came in their last two contests. Maybe that's things getting back to how they “should be” for a team with Anaheim's demonstrable talent, but also, maybe they just got the bounces in two straight games.

But more than that, the scoring almost doesn't matter because the Ducks have just locked everything down to an hilarious extent since Christmas.

What's interesting is that the shot attempts, shots, chances, and so on that Anaheim is taking haven't really changed that much since the break, but you can see here that there was a substantial decline in attempts, shots, and high-quality chances against since the 32-game mark, and even a little before that, to highlight just how soon Boudreau identified the problem and went about fixing it. Please keep in mind these are rolling averages, so the dotted line denoting the the break is actually reflective of how the Ducks played in the 10 games prior to the break, meaning that's when the rewards for the hard work just kind of started rolling in.

So please, no images of Boudreau unwrapping a perfect game plan to get the Ducks out of the doldrums on Christmas morning in his footie pajamas; the winning was a few weeks in the making.

The goals might not be there yet, but here are the Ducks' score-adjusted 5-on-5 percentages since Christmas: 55.8 percent attempts, 57.8 percent shots on goal, 59.7 high-danger chances. And all that leads to 54.2 percent goals. And that's with some rotten luck. Look out.

And now that they've figured things out in this regard, there's little reason to suspect they're going to deviate from the new course that's earned them so many standings points. Which should be terrifying to those sad Pacific teams trying to hold down a playoff spot above them. Arizona's up two, San Jose's up five, archrival Los Angeles is up 12. Of that group, I'd almost believe they could pass all of them, had the Kings not been playing lights-out hockey since about the third week of October. It would, however, come as no surprise at all to see the Ducks pass the Sharks and Coyotes well before February comes to a close. 

So tell your favorite hockey broadcaster that when they're filling out their Jack Adams ballots that no one has done more to adapt to his team's changing situation than Boudreau, a coach who should have a closet full of these trophies already. Usually the award goes to the coach of the bad team with the highest PDO, but this year it should go to the one with the best team and worst luck in the league.

It won't, of course. But it really, really should.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.

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