After coming within two games of reaching the Stanley Cup Final a year ago the Anaheim Ducks find themselves on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture through the first half of the 2017-18 season.
They are still well within striking distance of a playoff spot, but it is still probably not where they expected to find themselves at this point after such a successful performance a year ago.
The biggest issue is the fact the Ducks have been hit with a pretty devastating run of injuries that has decimated their core for much of the season. Their overall record and underlying analytics leave a ton to be desired at this point and makes it seem like this is, at best, a mediocre hockey team. But we don’t really know how good this Ducks team is — or how good it can be — because we really haven’t seen it as it was meant to be constructed.
The man-games lost numbers through the first half are truly staggering.
- They spent most of the first half playing without their top-two centers (Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler) with Getzlaf missing 24 games and Kesler missing, to this point, all but six games.
- On the wings Corey Perry has missed 11 games while Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell have each missed five.
- On the blue line Hampus Lindholm has missed 13 games and Cam Fowler has missed 12.
That is 107 man games lost to injury for a group of players that counts for more than $40 million against the salary cap this season.
The core of Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, Silverberg, Fowler and Lindholm has been together for just one games this season (their most recent game), and even on that night Kesler was limited to just eight minutes before leaving with yet another injury.
Needless to say, when a team goes without that many core players for that much of the season it is going to make winning extremely difficult, if not impossible.
The fact they are even still in contention for a playoff spot at this point with that run of injuries, especially down the middle, is a testament to how well their two goaltenders have played. Between the two of them, John Gibson and Ryan Miller have combined for a .926 save percentage and three shutouts.
Together they have held teams to two goals or less in 21 games this season, the fifth highest total in the league, even though they are facing more than 35 shots on goal per game.
What should be encouraging for the Ducks is how good they have been when they’ve had at least some of that group in the lineup together, as well as the fact they are starting to get healthy again in time for a second half playoff push.
- Getzlaf and Perry, one of the most dominant duos in the league during their careers, have been in the lineup together for just six games. They are 4-2-0 in those games and have averaged more than 3.6 goals per game.
- When they have at least four (any four) of the aforementioned six players in the lineup at the same time they are 12-9-3, which would put them on a 93 point pace over 82 games. The second wild card team in the Western Conference is currently on pace for 94 points. When they have fewer than four of them together they are only 7-6-6, an 86-point over 82 games.
The biggest difference-maker is clearly the addition of a healthy Getzlaf.
One of the best playmaking centers of his generation, the Ducks have been a different team this season with him in the lineup versus when he is not. This should not be a shock. When healthy this season Getzlaf has played more than 20 minutes per night, averaged more than a point per game (24 points in 19 games), has 17 primary points (a goal or the primary assist on a goal), and is one of the few players on the team that is currently a positive possession player.
With him in the lineup they are 11-6-2 on the season (a 103-point pace over 82 games).
Assuming Kesler’s latest injury isn’t serious and will not keep him out of the lineup for an extended period of time, the Ducks could have a really formidable trio down the middle with him, Getzlaf and the recently acquired Adam Henrique.
Combine that a healthy duo of Fowler and Lindholm leading the way on the blue line and a goaltending duo that has been consistently stellar all season and the Ducks could be a force to deal with down the middle.
Given that they are lagging behind the rest of their playoff competition in the regulation/overtime wins department, and everyone they are competing with still has games in hand on them, they are going to have a lot of work ahead of them when it comes to securing a playoff spot. But when you consider how well they have played this season when they are even relatively healthy makes it seem at least a little bit possible that they can still put it together in the second half and make a pretty serious run.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.