Anaheim Ducks Offensive GVT: 9.6
Anaheim Ducks Defensive GVT: 3.2
Anaheim Ducks Goalie GVT: -7.5
Anaheim Ducks Total GVT: 10
Calgary Flames Offensive GVT: 18.6
Calgary Flames Defensive GVT: 9.1
Calgary Flames Goalie GVT: -2.6
Calgary Flames Total GVT: 25
If you look solely at the advanced metrics, the Ducks would seem to not have many strengths at all, at least insofar as playoff teams are concerned. What Anaheim has in spades is, well, strength. Brute, physical strength. Among regular roster members, only three players (Sami Vatanen, Andrew Cogliano and Kyle Palmieri) are under six feet tall. Most of the skaters also weigh in comfortably above 200 pounds. This size advantage seemed to be the key to much of the team’s success over the course of the past few seasons, as they excelled at Western Conference style “smash-‘em-up” hockey. If they can’t beat you on the shot clock, they’ll beat you in the corners. To wit, it is generally accepted that the teams with the most hits counted are more often than not teams with poor possession marks. This makes intuitive sense as you don’t get a hit if your team already has the puck. That said, in spite of ranking 15th in CF% at 51.2%, the Ducks also finished 10th in total hits for with 2,301. There is less than a perfect negative correlation between team hits and team possession, but the trend has historically been in that direction.
It should also be noted of Anaheim that their meagre goals allowed marks (see their negative team goaltender GVT above) is unfairly skewed by the short-lived Ilya Bryzgalov experiment. In fewer than six games, Cool Bryz “contributed” a whopping -8.7GVT. The playoff starter, Fredrik Andersen, was good for 6.6 GVT in a little more than half of a season. While Andersen and understudy John Gibson have yet to demonstrate that they are bonafide strengths for Anaheim, they are listed in this section as to do otherwise would unfairly indicate that they are a weakness. They are not. Teams have won Stanley Cups with less.
Despite finishing the regular season with the most points of any team in the Western Conference, thereby locking up home ice advantage through the Conference finals (should they make it that far), no playoff entrant finished with a worse goal differential than Anaheim’s +10. Once we factor in that the team-wide goal differentials include the shootout, which as we all know is a non-factor in the playoffs, the Ducks come out even worse, at a meagre +7. A lot of that problem is tied up in a putrid power play, which finished 28th in the league at 15.7%. It’s not that the Ducks were world beaters at even strength or on the PK either, as both of those marks were around the middle of the pack. But that power play is simply atrocious. It is almost fortunate that Anaheim was also among the least likely teams to be given the man advantage, but in truth, that is also a weak spot. Should the Ducks succeed, it will have to be at five on five.
For most playoff matchups, the Ducks might also be at a disadvantage due to their rope-a-dope style of play. Part of the reason why the team won so often with such a nondescript goal differential was from being so often in a tied or trailing position entering the third period. Once they (inevitably) stage a comeback, there is only enough time left in regulation to equalize or take a one goal lead. If they can’t come back, they have just as often collapsed, losing by a lopsided score. To wit, they were an insane 33-1-7 in one goal games, but only 5-7 in games decided by two goals and 13-16 in games decided by three goals or more. While it did not happen in the first round against the Winnipeg Jets, it seems inevitable that the Ducks will find themselves in a hole that they cannot dig themselves out of.
Because of the enthusiasm with which they play, the Flames have a reputation as a hard hitting team. While the hits may be hard (we do not yet have a way of objectively measuring the hardness of any given hit), they are not very prolific in the realm of body checking. In the regular season, they finished 21st in total checks with 1,782. For a team which controls the puck so rarely, it is surprisingly little. On the other hand, the Flames do one thing better than any other team and that is blocking shots. With 1,557 instances of personal sacrifice for the good of the whole, Calgary is proof that communism lives on in hockey. They may be bottom feeders in teamwide Corsi, Fenwick and Scoring Chance differential, but the Ducks can rest assured that whenever they wind up to shoot on the Calgary net, one Flames defender or another will jump in front of the attempt.
In fairness, there is something else which Calgary does better than anyone else: avoid penalties/gain the man advantage. At +47, the Flames led the league in penalty differential, admittedly a less critical stat come playoff time, when referees habitually put away their whistles, letting “the players decide” the outcomes of the games. They have a decent power play, led by the likes of Dennis Wideman, Johnny Gaudreau, Kris Russell and Sean Monahan, although their PK has been substandard on the season, killing only 80.6% of all shorthanded situations. As this section is about their strengths, the fact that Anaheim rarely finds themselves on the powerplay and is so godawful poor at it, it is still a relative advantage for the Canadian team whenever the manpower situations are lopsided.
This was touched on in passing in the previous section, but bears repeating again. Calgary finished 28th leaguewide in both the raw versions of both Corsi and Fenwick. Even giving them the benefit of the doubt, in that not all shot attempts are created equal, they are still only 27th in scoring change rate. In case you were wondering, none of the teams below them in any of those metrics made the playoffs. If we focus only on the playoffs, the Flames are still bottom feeders, finishing ahead of only Minnesota in all three possession/quality-of-possession metrics. In as much as the small sample of the postseason should be taken with a significant grain of salt, following as it does on their regular season style of play, the numbers bear legitimacy.
For much of the season, the Flames’ saving grace was the play of stud blueliner Mark Giordano. Many articles were penned naming him as a front runner in the early going for the Norris Trophy. Towards the end of February, he tore a biceps muscle and the ensuing surgery has a recovery timeline of approximately four months. In other words, he missed the remainder of the regular season and is unlikely to return to the ice even if the Flames run the table and find themselves in the Finals. In his absence, Kris Russell has stepped up while the Flames have also placed heavier burdens on the shoulders of Wideman, Deryk Engelland and TJ Brodie. While three of those guys aren’t that bad, as a unit, the Flames’ blueline is not the caliber most often associated with a final eight team.
In many ways, this series will not be about a clash between different systems and styles, but between two teams playing a very similar game. Both teams have excelled at stringing along their opponents for 40 or so minutes, entering the third period with a deficit, or maybe a slight advantage, before pulling away at the end.
Between the absence of sieve Bryzgalov on the Ducks and defensive stalwart Giordano on the Flames, the overall GVT gap is not only overstated, but almost without remaining merit. The Flames are a pesky bunch and have certainly surpassed the expectations of many pundits (myself shamefully included), it seems a very dubious proposition that they will continue their analytically defying run and emerge as a Western Conference finalist. Ducks in six.