2011-2012 season preview: Anaheim Ducks

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2010-2011 record: 47-30-5, 99 points; 2nd in Pacific, 4th in West

Playoffs: Lost to Nashville 4-2 in Western quarterfinals

After an embarrassingly bad road trip to start last season, the Ducks managed to turn things around and eventually earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs last season. Teemu Selanne proved that he could still play even though he turned 40 before last season. Lubomir Visnovsky showed that he is one of the most potent offensive defensemen in the league, and Jonas Hiller demonstrated in the first half that he is a world class goaltender. Take all of that and mix in an unstoppable top line led by the defending Hart Trophy winner and there are plenty of pieces in place to get fans in Anaheim excited.

Offense

There’s no question that the Ducks’ offensive line is extremely top-heavy — but those few stars showed that they were capable of carrying the team last season. MVP Corey Perry, captain Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan combined last season to be arguably the top line in the entire NHL last season. Selanne joined Getzlaf and Perry on the power play and put up 31 goals and 80 points of his own. If the major players can stay healthy, they’re going to get theirs.

For the Ducks, the key will be for the team to get some scoring depth from the other lines. Jason Blake and Saku Koivu will join Selanne on the second line. Newcomer Andrew Cogliano will take over for Todd Marchant as the shutdown center. Another bottom-six player to watch could be rookie Devante Smith-Pelly — he plays the perfect style of game to be an effective, physical player who can create energy and opportunities for his teammates.

Defense

The weak spot on the Ducks is their blue line. Guys like Lubomir Visnovsky and Cam Fowler are the types of blueliners who can create offense from the point, but true shutdown defenseman are few and far between in Anaheim. Toni Lydman was a fantastic surprise for the team last year and will be asked to do the same last season. Francois Beauchemin will also look to rediscover the game he left during his first stint with the Ducks. Regardless, the Ducks were 20th in the league in goals against average — not a good stat considering Jonas Hiller and Ray Emery were such strong goaltenders last season.

Goalies

The word out of Anaheim throughout training camp is that Jonas Hiller is 100 percent and ready to start the season as the No. 1 goalie. He was one of the best goaltenders in the league going into the all-star break, but a bout with vertigo symptoms in essence sidelined him for the entire second half. Ray Emery stepped in with Dan Ellis to help the Ducks survive to the playoffs — but it’s always been Hiller’s net. In the offseason, the Ducks let Emery leave for a tryout in Chicago and acquired Jeff Deslauriers to put a little pressure on Ellis for the backup role.

Coaching

Randy Carlyle started his tenure in Anaheim with a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2006 followed it with the franchise’s first (and only) Stanley Cup in 2007. Unfortunately, the team and Carlyle haven’t had as much playoff success in the four years since reaching the promised land. Still, the Ducks have consistently been a playoff contender — due in large part to Carlyle’s ability to get his team to play with a tough edge.

Breakout candidate

Cam Fowler has all the makings of a breakout player this season. After his highly-publicized freefall in the 2010 draft, Fowler found himself in Anaheim in his very first season. He gradually became more comfortable on the ice and finished the season with 10 goals and 40 points. He also had a minus-25 rating. The Ducks and Fowler say that he’s more comfortable on both sides of the puck and he’s slated to get first-line power play minutes this season. Watch for Fowler to improve upon his rookie stats and grow into a legitimate top-four defenseman role.

Best-case scenario

In some ways, the Ducks can look to last season for their best-case scenario. Perry was able to put the team on his back and score 50 goals (even with Getzlaf out for an extended period of time). Selanne was able to stay healthy and didn’t miss a beat and Hiller was one of the best goaltenders in the game during the first half. If Anaheim can replicate everything from last season and have better luck on the injury front, it could battle for home-ice in the first round again.

Reality

The Ducks will need to prove that they can keep the puck out of the net. In a way, Anaheim is an interesting case study in building a team. While the Ducks used defense to win a Cup in ’07, they’re now led by an elite handful of scorers and a great goaltender. They could certainly use more depth at forward and a little more help on the defensive side of the blue line. Still, the Ducks proved that their formula can produce positive results when everyone produces at the highest level. They may slip, but the third spot in the Pacific and the seventh spot in the Western Conference are realistic expectations.

Scott Darling: Latest goalie beaten from center ice (Video)

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Here’s a thought: considering an 82-game regular season and about a two-month-long postseason, it’s almost a little surprising that we don’t see more center-ice goals.

Such a goal can happen in so many ways. A puck can take an odd bounce. A goalie might take his eye off the puck for a second while deciding what to do next, much like an NFL receiver who drops an easy pass while dreaming of those sweet, sweet, yards up ahead.

So, let’s not be too hard on Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling, who padded Mika Zibanejad‘s already-robust goal totals with the center-ice flub you can see in the video above.

If you prefer a GIF form, this one nails the spirit of the thing:

(Agreed, little emoticon monkey. Agreed.)

Since we’re on the subject of goals netminders would want back even more than usual, we might as well also consider Tyler Ennis beating Chad Johnson here:

Ouch. Hey, we’ve all been there (vaguely speaking).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks – Lightning, Wednesday Night Rivalry

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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” features a rematch of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks.

During that competitive series, the Blackhawks were the favorites. The tide has turned now, however, as the dynamite duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have propelled the Bolts to the upper crust of the NHL. Chicago, meanwhile, strains to remain a contender.

But it’s worth noting that the Blackhawks cannot be taken lightly. They still feature Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Corey Crawford, so tonight should provide plenty of entertainment.

Along with watching on NBCSN, you can also check the action out on online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

The NHL has seen a pretty big spike in goal scoring this season

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If it seems like there have been more goals scored in the NHL this season you would be correct.

As the season gets ready to move into its second quarter the league announced that there have been 1,924 goals scored this season, the highest total since the 2005-06 season when the league had 2,008 goals scored through the first quarter.

Third on the list was the 2006-07 season when 1,905 goals were scored.

You might remember the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons as being that brief spike in goal-scoring coming out of the lockout when the league cracked down on obstruction and interference, resulting in far more power plays and power play goals. In the years since the league saw a steady decline in both power plays and goals.

The league has made a point to try and crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations this season. That has not really resulted in a significant increase in the total number of power plays, but teams are converting on more of their power play opportunities.

There has also been a pretty dramatic increase in even-strength scoring (that is up 10.9 percent from a season ago at the same point).

That overall increase in scoring has also trickled down to the individual player level where 30 players (minimum 10 games played) are averaging more than a point per game.

At Thanksgiving a season ago only 11 players were averaging at least a point per game.

Only eight players finished the season (minimum 40 games played) with a point per game average.

For years everyone has had theories as to why goal scoring has decreased and what can be done to change it. Bigger nets? Smaller goalie equipment? More power plays? The reality is that goal scoring did not decrease for any one reason, it was likely a combination of factors, from goalies getting bigger and better, to teams becoming more structured and defensive, to power plays decreasing. The league has made a few small changes along the way to help remedy it and so far this season it seems to be reversing a little.

Whether or not it continues remains to be seen. It is, however, a pretty encouraging start.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

How the Oilers became the NHL’s biggest disappointment

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At the start of the 2017-18 season the Edmonton Oilers were one of the top Stanley Cup favorites.

They were one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals and they have the reigning league MVP and scoring champion (and arguably the game’s best player). All of that seemed to indicate a team that was on the verge of taking another major step and breaking through as one of the league’s elite teams. Their preseason Stanley Cup odds from Bovada were second best in the league to only the back-to-back champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The bandwagon was filling up.

Here we are not just a quarter of the way through the season and there is no debating that the Oilers have not only failed to reach those sky-high expectations, they are clearly the league’s biggest disappointment.

Entering play on Wednesday — and following an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night — the Oilers have the third worst points percentage in the league, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. Their minus-19 goal differential is fourth-worst. They have managed to win just four games in regulation with only two of them coming over the past month.

So, how did they get here? Let us try to figure it out.

It starts with the people upstairs

Three years ago the Oilers were given a gift from the hockey draft gods when they won the lottery and the right to select Connor McDavid. It was the fourth time in six years they won the top pick and this time were able to pick a player that would quickly become the best offensive player in the league. Since McDavid entered the league he has more than lived up to the hype with a 1.18 points per game average that is tops among all players (minimum 100 games played) during that stretch.

As great as McDavid has been, he can not do it all on his own. This is not the NBA where one or two great players can carry a team deep into the playoffs (or even into the playoffs at all). There has to be a supporting cast around them, and the Oilers have quickly sabotaged their chances to do that through some brutal roster and asset management.

Let’s just examine some of the moves made by Peter Chiarelli since taking over as the Oilers’ general manager.

His first move was to trade two top-33 picks (No. 16 overall and No. 33 overall) to the New York Islanders for defenseman Griffin Reinhart. The Islanders used that pick to select Matthew Barzal, currently one of the top rookies in the NHL this season. Reinhart played 30 forgettable games with the Oilers before moving on to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights this season.

[On fire vs. fireable: Blues humiliate Oilers]

Then came the one-for-one trades: Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, and then Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome.

Both trades have played a significant role in reducing the team’s scoring depth.

Since being traded Hall’s 26 goals and 74 points would make him the third most productive player on the Oilers. His point total this season alone would make him the team’s second-leading scorer behind McDavid. Eberle’s 14 points would make him the team’s fourth-leading scorer.

The return for the Oilers has not come close to matching that production. Larsson is a solid, if unspectacular defenseman, while Strome’s offense has been non-existent. Even at his best Strome was never quite on par with what Eberle has shown to be capable of on a regular basis. Those trades have devastated the Oilers’ scoring depth and are now left with a team that is 27th in the league in goals scored and seems to be unable to generate any offense when McDavid is not on the ice.

In three years Chiarelli has traded two picks in the top-33 of a draft, a top-line forward and gave Kris Russell, a borderline second-to third-pairing defenseman to help improve the defense and the team is still desperate for defensive help.

That is a lot of bad roster management, and it is wasting what might be some of McDavid’s best years in the league.

Cam Talbot can’t get a break

Literally, he can not get a night off.

The Oilers’ goals against numbers improved dramatically a season ago and a lot of credit for that improvement was directed toward the additions of Larsson and Russel. The reality is that a lot of it had to do with Talbot helping to solidify the goaltending position.

His save percentage wasn’t anything spectacular and at .917 was fairly close to the league average. But Talbot played 72 games and if you can get average to slightly above league average goaltending for 72 games that is going to be a positive value to your team, especially with where the Oilers were coming from in recent seasons. His performance, combined with his durability to play that many games, probably shaved 15 goals off the Oilers’ goals against totals.

Talbot has not been as strong so far this season, and given that he has already played a league-high 19 games you have to wonder if maybe that workload is starting to catch up with him.

Since the start of the 2016-17 season Talbot has played in 93 regular season games. Only three other goalies have played in more than 80 and only one (Frederik Andersen, 85) has played in more than 83. He has faced 2,688 shots.

That does not include the 13 playoff games and 437 shots he faced in the playoffs. That is a ton of work for a goalie over a season-and-a-quarter.

The Oilers have no adequate backup that can give him any sort of a break.

Lucky or unlucky?

There does seem to be an element of some bad luck to the Oilers’ struggles this season. Their possession and shot attempt numbers are among the best in the league, and they do seem to be struggling with some poor percentages on the offensive end.

When it comes to the save percentage numbers and Talbot’s struggles it is worth wondering if that extensive workload over the past two seasons has started to wear him down.

It is also worth wondering if they had a lot of players play over their heads a season ago, specifically when it came to players like Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu. That duo combined for 43 goals a season ago. They have combined for 8 so far this season. That puts them on pace for about 15 over 82 games. Combine that with the offense they are losing going from Eberle to Strome, as well as the absence of Hall and that is a big chunk of offense going away and helps explain how a team with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkings all averaging close to a point-per-game is 26th in the league in goals scored.

You might be reading all of this and thinking to yourself, relax, Gretz, it’s only Thanksgiving. Still a lot of hockey left to be played. Sure, there is a lot of hockey remaining in the season. The problem for teams like the Oilers is NHL history tells us the standings do not tend to change much once the calendar rolls over to December. Currently the Oilers are already seven points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and eight points out of one of the three playoff spots in the Pacific Division.

Points are difficult to make up as the season goes on and teams that are already this far out do not tend to make them up.

Perhaps the Stanley Cup for this Oilers team was a little too premature, mainly because they have managed to squander any chance of building a competitive team around the best player in the world through some terrible roster management.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.