Digging deeper on the Ducks

Sitting in the 400 level at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif, staring down at the back of left-handed goalie Jonas Hiller, a fundamental question came to mind about the Ducks: Are they good enough to win the Stanley Cup?

New Hockey Prospectus writer Sam Hitchcock looked at all the teams in both conferences recently. His conclusion on the Ducks was this:

On the “yes” side of the question: “Among Western Conference teams, the Ducks have the most regulation and overtime wins. This season presents their best opportunity to return to the finals since their Stanley Cup win in 2007.”

On the “no” side: “Too much of a burden is placed on Getzlaf and Perry to dictate play, and a goaltender who is unable to steal games is a red flag for a team with real Cup aspirations.”

Great observations. See, the Mighty SoCal hockey team has been at the top of the standings for nearly the entire season, only to recently be passed by the blazing hot St. Louis Blues, but we have found in the past that having a good – or even great – record doesn’t always mean playoff success.

The Ducks, like Sam said, have some red flags. Against the Capitals, they are dominating puck possession, out – shooting them 45 to 30, but this group is not known for their Fenwicking skills. Anaheim ranks 16th in the NHL in Fenwick Close. While being a mediocre possession team doesn’t automatically mean Anaheim’s chances at the Cup are low, they certainly suggest it is appropriate to look closer at how they have succeeded before crowning them a favorite. Could there be hints at an early-round out or is Fenwick missing something that indicates a deep run is in store?

Like some other teams that excel in the standings, the Ducks feature some supremely talented scorers and one line that may send thee players to the Hall of Fame. On this night, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne are paired together and the results are fantastic. The two mega stars and their aged, yet still-skilled companion pass the puck like it is the All-Star game, especially when Getzlaf gets behind the net. There are few players harder to get the puck away from in the entire NHL – and few harder to move from the blue paint than Perry.

While we often find the grinders making names for themselves come Spring, it is ultimately the top players who will decide whether a team raises the Cup. Look no further than last season’s stacked champions. It is rare that a team can compete with the top lines of the West, but the Ducks certainly can, no matter who they Pair with Getzlaf and Perry. Same goes for every team in the Western Conference hunt. The likes of David Backes, Anze Kopitar, Joe Pavelski and on are not exactly looking forward to the Ducks’ top line.  Will they get production from their depth, though?

We will get to the “they have no depth” argument, but first, the Fenwick problem. Interestingly, the Ducks have a high rate of getting their shot attempts on goal. They are fourth in the NHL at getting attempts on net, with 55.7% hitting the opponents’ goalie or the back of the net. It seems right to say they make more of their attempts than some teams such as the Kings, who only put 51.2% on net. It is still likely the Kings, ranked No. 1 in the NHL in Fenwick Close, have the puck more than the Ducks, but are not getting as much out of their attempts at the goal.

By the same measure, the Ducks do not allow a high percentage of their shot attempts against to reach the net. Only Montreal, Pittsburgh and Calgary let fewer shot attempts get to their goalie. Could it be strategy? The arena’s official scorers? It is hard to say. But the Ducks’ possession looks a little more promising from the standpoint of shots on goal for vs. against, where they rank eighth in the league. Again, does that discount their Fenwick Close ranking? No. Does it make you raise an eyebrow about the value of those attempts? Yes.

Now, about Getzlaf and Perry. The perception is that they are relied upon too heavily. In some ways, that appears to be true. For example, when Getzlaf is on the ice at 5-on-5, Anaheim has 63 goals for. The next best forward in this category (outside Perry) is Nick Bonino with 36. However, the Ducks sport another pair of quality 5v5 scorers – one that has gone largely ignored for their even-strength scoring. Matthieu Perreault and Kyle Palmeri are both amongst the league’s best 5-on-5 scorers.

Here is how they match up to other teams’ top two 5v5 producers:

Top 2 scorers EV per 60 1 EV/60 2 Total
Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry 3.32 2.94 6.26
Jamie Benn/Tyler Seguin 2.81 2.80 5.61
Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin 2.67 2.63 5.30
Kyle Palmeri/M. Perreault 2.52 2.51 5.03
Jonathan Toews/Patrick Sharp 2.50 2.45 4.95
Jaden Schwartz/V. Tarasenko 2.58 2.42 5.00
Matt Duchane/G. Landeskog 2.58 2.35 4.93

 

The trade of Dustin Penner, however odd it may have felt at the time, opens up a spot for several players to get more ice time. One of those is Patrick Maroon, who is sporting a +6.8% Relative Corsi Percentage in 506 minutes. The young forward has also added 15 even-strength points in his 50 games and is plus-6 in penalties drawn vs. taken. Maroon’s ice time has significantly increased since the trade of Penner, from just 6.5 minutes played in the game before the deadline to 16.7 against Washington March 18 to 18.3 minutes on March 20 against San Jose.

Individually, the players used as depth forwards are pretty solid, but something seems off. Players like Kyle Palmieri and Jakob Silfverberg are top six types, but are forced to lower lines because of the team’s top talent. Palmieri played against the Caps with Maroon and Nick Bonino and Silfverberg was lined up with Perreault and Matt Beleskey. If they face off with the body-bruising Kings in the first round, will they hold up?

On defense, the Ducks might be better than you think. The emergence of former fourth-round pick Sami Vatanen, one could argue, will mean more to the Ducks D than the trade for veteran Stephane Robidas. Vatanen has a +3.2% Relative Corsi Percentage and has provided some offense at 5v5 and on the power play with six goals and eight assists in 41 games.

Young defenseman Hampus Lindholm has turned into a highly capable puck distributor and USA Olympian Cam Fowler is a solid all-around defensemn. However, the Ducks lack an elite D-man like Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. Decent depth at the position with Bryan Allen – who is not your run-of-the-mill stay-at home guy – and Robidas are not enough to make them elite at the blueline. And judging by the match-ups against the Caps, the Ducks’ coaching staff seems to think Francois Beauchemin and Luca Sbisa are their “shutdown” pair. That may not be the best pair to face the West’s best.

While there are question marks, the Ducks’ five-on-five play has been amongst the best in the NHL. They trail only Boston in EV Goals For Percentage. They are weak on special teams, ranking 21st in both power play and penalty kill. Another coaching oddity was using Getzlaf at the point on the PP despite having several strong offensive defenseman.

Goaltending is also a question mark. Jonas Hiller’s last three seasons have been average, with save percentages of .910, .913 and .914. He has had quality playoff runs before, but is no longer in the top category of NHL netminders. Of course, playoff goaltending is darn hard to predict. By his career save percentages, you might not have picked Corey Crawford to raise a Cup.

As the Ducks came up short against the Capitals, the takeaway thought was that match-ups may determine how deep they go in the playoffs. If Anaheim plays the Kings, who lock things down with their size and play a possession game, they may have an extremely difficult time. If they play a faster-paced club with more open nice, their exceptional neutral zone play may give them an opportunity to light up the scoreboard at five-on-five. Essentially, they deserve to be considered a favorite, but have enough flaws to not be the favorite.

Matthew Coller is Managing Editor of Hockey Prospectus. He is the long-time host of Hockey Prospectus Radio, producer of the Howard Simon Show on Buffalo’s WGR550 and their Rochester Amerks reporter, and a multi-sport play-by-play announcer.

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Follow Matthew on Twitter at @matthewWGR.

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