Ducks’ injury problems could derail hot streak

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The Anaheim Ducks have really been heating up lately, grabbing six wins in their last seven games. A painfully familiar problem could derail all of that promise, however, as injuries are once again mounting.

The Ducks provided two unfortunate updates on Tuesday:

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Ryan Miller: The superb backup suffered an MCL sprain during Sunday’s wild 6-5 shootout win against the Devils. His recovery window is estimated at six weeks, while they’ll evaluate the veteran goalie once more in two weeks.

As you can note from this breakdown from Anaheim’s five-game winning streak, much of the Ducks’ success came from an impeccable goalie duo of Miller and John Gibson. Gibson is the Vezina-level workhorse, but don’t count out Miller’s contributions. He’s continued a so-far-phenomenal run with the Ducks, managing a .922 save percentage in 10 games this season (with four goals allowed against New Jersey hurting his numbers more than a bit).

Anaheim did get at least one bit of good luck here, relatively speaking. The Ducks were able to pluck an experienced goalie in Chad Johnson off of waivers, as they took him off of the St. Louis Blues’ hands. His former Bengals WR namesake celebrated the occasion:

Johnson’s off to a lousy start in 2018-19 (.884 save percentage in 10 games), and really struggled with the Calgary Flames last season. Even so, his .909 career save percentage is still pretty good for a journeyman backup, especially since the Ducks didn’t need to cough up any assets to give him a try.

None of this makes Miller’s loss good news, yet there’s at least a chance that Johnson could hold down the fort whenever Gibson needs a breather.

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Rickard Rakell: the Ducks didn’t provide a timetable for the winger’s return, labeling his injury as a sprained ankle.

The Athletic’s Eric Stephens reports that Rakell was wearing a protective boot this weekend:

Despite being out since Dec. 5, Rakell stands as the Ducks’ second-highest scorer (20 points in 30 games), trailing only Ryan Getzlaf.

While that 6-5 shootout win against the Devils shows that Anaheim can fill the net from time to time (pauses for own-goal jokes), they’ve generally been scoring just enough to win lately. With that in mind, Rakell’s injury really stings, especially if Nick Ritchie and Pontus Aberg start to cool off.

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To review, Miller and Rakell join a growing list of injured Ducks. Corey Perry and Cam Fowler are recovering from significant issues that required surgeries. Patrick Eaves is also dealing with injury/health issues, and it’s fair to wonder how often Ryan Kesler is truly at full-strength.

At the moment, the Ducks are ranked third in the Pacific Division with 37 points in 32 games, as the Sharks have the same 16-11-5 record but own an edge in ROW (16 to 13). They’ll close their current homestand out on Wednesday, then head out on the road for six straight away games, mostly against Eastern Conference teams:

Wed, Dec. 12: vs. Dallas
Sat, Dec. 15: @ Columbus
Mon, Dec. 17: @ Pittsburgh
Tue, Dec. 18: @ Rangers
Thu, Dec. 20: @ Boston
Sat, Dec. 22: @ Buffalo
Thu, Dec. 27: @ San Jose

It hasn’t always been pretty for the Ducks, but credit them for fighting through injuries. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll need to keep doing so.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Ducks’ winning streak: luck, skill, Gibson?

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On paper, it sure seems like the Anaheim Ducks are heating up after weathering some storms early this season.

The Ducks beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 on Wednesday, extending their current winning streak to five games. Their upward trend dates back a bit before that, too, as they’ve won seven of their last eight games.

Combine Anaheim’s surge with a weak Pacific Division and you get a rosy outlook: the Ducks are comfortably located in a playoff position (second place, though others have a game or two in hand, with 35 points in 30 games).

So, does this mean that the Ducks are merely shrugging off an undeniably tough run of injuries to begin 2018-19? Is Randy Carlyle’s crew ascending back to true contender status? Alternatively, are they mainly getting lucky?

This post dives into the Ducks’ recent run to see how much has changed, and how much they might be able to sustain.

Simple team-wide stats

The Ducks and Lightning share the same 7-1-0 record in eight games since Nov. 21, tying for the best mark during that span.

One bit of promising news is that, in some areas, the Ducks aren’t playing too over their heads. Anaheim’s power play success rate through eight games (21.7) is higher than the full-season mark of 16.9), yet that’s not an astronomical jump that would raise a red flag. The Ducks’ PK has been basically unchanged, killing about 80 percent of penalties.

Still, the Ducks have arrived at their seven wins in a far less impressive way than the Lightning. While Tampa Bay’s generated 37 goals for versus 24 goals against, the Ducks have scored just 26 goals versus 20.

Keeping pucks out of the net

If you want to point to a single factor propelling the Ducks to this strong run, it’s probably the element you’d anticipate if you’ve been following this team’s sporadic successes. Goaltending has been the ace up Anaheim’s sleeve.

That starts – but it doesn’t end – with splendid starter John Gibson. During his seven games since Nov. 21, Gibson has only allowed 16 goals, putting up a strong .922 save percentage. It says a lot about Gibson’s talent that he’s actually been a bit better over the full season (.926) and his entire career (.924).

Ryan Miller hasn’t played a ton during this winning streak, yet he’s been lights out when called up. During two games (and one start), Miller stopped 53 out of 56 shots for a .946 save percentage. Miller’s at a .929 save percentage in 2018-19, and he’s been absolutely tremendous since joining the Ducks, generating an overall save percentage of .928 in 37 games between the past two seasons.

(That agonized groan you heard might have been the Hurricanes, Flames, and other teams that could have conceivably tabbed Miller as their starting goalie.)

Some scoring variety?

Over the past eight games, six Ducks forwards (Ryan Getzlaf, Nick Ritchie, Pontus Aberg, Adam Henrique, Ondrej Kase, and Rickard Rakell) have at least seven points, with Getzlaf leading the pack at eight.

They’ve also enjoyed some solid production from defensemen like Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour; fascinatingly, Marcus Pettersson was traded to Pittsburgh with a hot hand, as he had four of his season’s six points during that streak.

Some of those forwards have been on unsustainably hot streaks (Ritchie, for example, enjoyed a 36.4 shooting percentage during these eight games), but it would be heartening if the Ducks could get offense beyond Getzlaf. It was just one game, yet management had to be high-fiving after seeing Daniel Sprong score on his first shot with the Ducks.

Lingering issues

Possession stats aren’t the end-all, be-all, but they can often forecast an icy team thawing out or a hot team cooling off.

Looking at the Ducks’ numbers, there are reasons to be concerned about a lull.

Using Puck on Net’s stats since Nov. 21, you can see that the Ducks have still been a bottom-third NHL team when it comes to Corsi, Fenwick, and simple shots for/against. While the Ducks have shown some signs of improvement compared to especially troubling full-season trends, they seemingly remain quite dependent upon Gibson/Miller stopping a lot of shots, and hoping Getzlaf and others can make up any difference.

The health question

Look, it’s perfectly reasonable to feel sympathy for the Ducks, as they’ve suffered through some tough injury issues. In the case of Cam Fowler‘s painful-sounding facial ailments, there’s an element of random, lousy luck.

Even so, it’s reasonable to wonder if Corey Perry will be able to move the needle in a return, if he can manage to play again this season. It frequently takes players time to get back to full strength after an injury, particularly serious ones.

And, let’s face it. While the Ducks have some nice young players, many of their most prominent players are on the older end, and the Getzlaf/Perry/Ryan Kesler types are also the ones who’ve really been through battles.

As uncomfortable as it is to ask, it’s fair to wonder if the Ducks are simply going to have to live with a lot of trips to the trainer in the short and medium-term future.

Resiliency

Give the Ducks credit for finding ways to win, though, especially lately.

It’s impressive that the Ducks began this five-game winning streak by winning the last four contests during a road trip. Wednesday’s win against Chicago began a four-game homestand, so the Ducks have a chance to store some points as if they’re building up winter coats.

(Do actual ducks have winter coats?)

These recent experiences could help the Ducks, as their schedule features some dramatic home and road swings:

  • Once they conclude this four-game homestand (three games remaining), they’ll head out for a six-game road trip.
  • They’ll enter 2019 with a six-game homestand from Dec. 29 – Jan. 11.
  • An especially daunting stretch follows that. They play five games on the road from Jan. 13-20, get a home game against the Blues on Jan. 23, then head out on a five-game road trip from Feb. 2-9. Playing 10 of 11 games on the road? That’s the sort of stretch that can really tear a season apart – or bring players closer together – depending upon how things go.

I’ve criticized Carlyle’s coaching plenty of times, but if he can keep things positive through the thick and thin of the next six weeks or so, then he deserves some kudos.

Closing thoughts

There are a lot of warning signs that the Ducks might not be able to walk this tightrope.

Anaheim is still asking a lot of its goalies, and if we know anything about the position, it’s that results can be unpredictable. Even the best of the best tend to suffer through dry spells. It doesn’t help that the Ducks tend to allow a significantly higher number of chances for than against (hence the Carlyle criticism).

The Ducks’ schedule isn’t exactly what you’d call “forgiving,” either.

Then again, the formula of Gibson, Getzlaf, and assorted other players might just work. That’s especially true in a Pacific Division that hasn’t been very good, at least so far.

It may not be pretty, yet if the Ducks can put together another stretch or two like this one, they might be able to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. For all their flaws, plenty of teams probably would prefer to avoid a best-of-seven series against Gibson.

Do you think the Ducks can navigate these choppy waters?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Seattle ticket waiting list grows; U.S. WJC camp roster

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Up top, Bob McKenzie was on Wednesday Night Hockey discussing potential general managers for the new Seattle NHL franchise.

• Ground has been broken on the Seattle arena rebuild and more than 5,000 people have been added to the season-ticket holder waiting list. [NHL.com]

• The Vegas Golden Knights offer some advice for the NHL Seattle franchise. [Las Vegas Sun]

• The great Chris Peters has a player-by-player breakdown of the U.S. World Junior Championship camp roster. [United States of Hockey]

• Some good and bad injury news for the Anaheim Ducks. Patrick Eaves is out indefinitely with a broken rib and Cam Fowler could be back next month. [OC Register]

• When pointing out the current problems with the New Jersey Devils, don’t look at Taylor Hall. [Pucks and Pitchforks]

• What changes should the Boston Bruins make right now? [WEEI]

• How much longer will Adin Hill be the man in net for the Arizona Coyotes? [Arizona Republic]

• It’s been quite an NHL journey so far for Anthony Duclair. Here’s what he’s learned at each of his four stops. [ESPN]

• When it comes to NHL bobbleheads, the San Jose Sharks know what their fans want. [Fear the Fin]

• Talking shot quality and quantity about Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders. [Lighthouse Hockey]

• The confidence of the Columbus Blue Jackets is growing. [1st Ohio Battery]

• Daniel Walcott of the Tampa Bay Lightning got to watch as his dad did quite well on “Dragon’s Den.” [Color of Hockey]

• “Ice Hockey UK have confirmed that Team GB will take part in a triangular tournament with Hungary and Italy, as well as facing KHL sides Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod and Dinamo Riga, as part of their preparations for the 2019 IIHF World Championships.” [One Puck Short]

• Finally, Doc got to meet Barclay the service dog last night. For more on Barclay, click here.

Ducks are a mess and most obvious fix is also most painful

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On Wednesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights absolutely throttled the Anaheim Ducks. The score was 5-0, but it felt like Vegas could name its score, and they really took their foot off the accelerator during the third period.

Between injuries and Ryan Getzlaf‘s tendency to “ease into” some regular seasons, it’s likely tempting for the Ducks to explain their struggles away as the usual growing pains of a veteran-heavy team. After all, the Ducks’ mediocre record (8-9-3 for 19 points in 20 games) isn’t all that different from last season, when they were a fairly lousy 7-7-3 for 17 points in 17 games.

Those arguments provide a smokescreen for something that seems pretty clear if you’ve watched the team with any regularity: the Anaheim Ducks stink right now.

[Gibson was saving the day, until he couldn’t as often.]

Bottom of the barrel

Toggle through Natural Stat Tricks’ various team stats and you’ll see the Ducks rank in the basement in a ton of telling categories. Only the Islanders rank lower in Corsi For Percentage. Want to eliminate blocked shots from the equation? Oops, they fall all the way to last place.

Don’t try to use the “Well, they just give you the low-quality chances while taking away the high-price real estate,” as the Ducks generate 38.37 of the high-danger chances in their games, easily the worst rate in the NHL.

Too much jargon for you? They’re also the NHL’s worst team at even-strength when it comes to scoring chance percentage.

John Gibson looks like he was sent from some other hockey-playing planet like an NHL take on “Space Jam” lately, but even he can’t bail out the Ducks every night. That much was clear as he was pulled from Wednesday’s drubbing against Vegas.

Now, could you attribute some struggles to injuries? In the short term, sure.

Mounting evidence of an overmatched coach

The excuses start to melt away when you consider Randy Carlyle’s larger track record as a frequently – justifiably – criticized NHL head coach. Via Corsica Hockey, the Ducks have been the 11th-worst team in the NHL from a Corsi perspective since Carlyle took over in 2016-17. Carlyle’s previous work with the Toronto Maple Leafs provided ghastly results (second worst in Corsi during his run, also via Corsica), casting the veteran head coach as someone bandied about during ugly-funny analytics debates.

The Ducks have problems that are rooted deeper than Carlyle’s system. They had issues stemming from Boudreau’s days, and to some extent, they’re getting the bill for going all-in on the present and whiffing on their big chances.

That said, it doesn’t seem like the Ducks are going into liquidation mode, so the easiest (and potentially most effective) fix would be to admit that Carlyle’s ways simply don’t work in the NHL any longer. We could argue until our faces are blue about how long they haven’t worked, but the evidence is building that the Ducks are nearing a minor crisis.

You could almost imagine literal wheels of realization slowly turning for Carlyle and GM Bob Murray after the Ducks were brusquely swept from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the San Jose Sharks. Consider what Murray said about the Sharks playing “faster” than the Ducks:

“Are Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski really fast skaters? Are they?” Murray asked, via Eric Stephens, then of the OC Register. “I had one of them in Team Canada. No. They’re good hockey players. But if your team plays fast, you can make players faster. And that’s the first thing that has to be addressed around here.”

Hmmm, the Sharks played too fast for the Ducks, yet Murray himself admitted that San Jose might not inherently feature faster players? You almost wonder if that might come down to the style of play, and the coach’s scheme? Nah …

This internal struggle has spilled out multiple times, even if you can mix the moments of at least acknowledging reality with exhibits of old-school, possibly out-of-date views on the game. For instance, earlier this season, Carlyle spoke about the Ducks playing “too cute” and needing to be dirtier.

Now, some of that boils down to inane hockey buzzwords, but any objective observer can see that the game is shifting away from grunting, grinding, low-talent work to puck-moving defensemen, smaller players, and speed mixed with skill.

The good news is that the Ducks actually possess quite a few players who can play that game, although it does hurt their transition game to lose Cam Fowler for some time. That’s particularly true on defense, as Anaheim has some very solid defenseman, with Hampus Lindholm standing tall as the most underrated piece of the bunch. And, while Getzlaf has never been known for being fast, Murray’s done a decent job of supplementing this roster with some skaters, from Ondrej Kase and Pontus Aberg to an aging speedster like Andrew Cogliano.

Is it a perfect group? No, but if Murray doesn’t want to aim for a soft-reboot, he must think long and hard about pulling the plug on Carlyle. Even if that means powering up the, uh, hot-take factory?

Firing a head coach is always easier said than done, yet that’s especially true in this case.

Fool me once, shame on you …

After all, if Murray were to do this, he would essentially admit that he was wrong to hire Carlyle … twice. Murray stuck his neck out for the guy who was bend the bench for the Ducks’ Stanley Cup win, and this quote from hiring Carlyle shows how personal the decision was:

“Everything came back to Randy in the end,” Murray said in June 2016, according to The Globe & Mail. “I know in my heart that this is the right move at this time for this hockey team.”

This situation is another reminder that, as analytical as GM moves can often feel, things can get messy when you’re so close to decisions. Frankly, one can openly speculate that many other head coaches could’ve guided a Ducks team featuring Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger to a Stanley Cup at that time; in Murray’s eyes, though, Carlyle brought him to that summit.

It wouldn’t be one bit surprising to see Murray and the Ducks doubling down on this decision, and considering how putrid the Pacific Division is, Anaheim could easily squeeze into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Is that really the goal for this aging team? Murray himself wondered if the Ducks would have been better off missing the postseason altogether last season, so you probably don’t need to visit the hot-take factory to realize that it might be wise to be proactive rather than throwing away another season with a questionable ceiling.

Yes, we’re just 20 games into the Ducks’ season, but these aren’t exactly new problems, and it’s tough to imagine all but the most modest improvements.

We’re easily at the point where Murray might need to make an “agonizing” decision once again. If not, Murray runs a serious risk of going down with what looks like a sinking ship, and the coach who’s left them adrift.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Crosby, Chara, Subban headline brutal NHL injuries list

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If it wasn’t already clear that the grind of a grueling 82-game season was starting to set in, this list of injuries should drive the point home. Even by such standards, plenty of NHL teams are reeling – publicly or not – in mid-November.

This continues a tough stretch of injury news, as John Klingberg ranked among the biggest names in the last batch of unsettling updates.

  • Sidney Crosby is the biggest name, and the latest news from the Pittsburgh Penguins presents a mixed bag.

Whenever you hear the words “Sidney Crosby” and “upper-body injury,” the reflex is to worry that his career-threatening concussion issues have surfaced again. The good news is that, at least according to the Penguins, Crosby is not dealing with a concussion. While it’s worth noting that teams can be less-than-forthcoming when it comes to injury updates, we’ll have to take this as heartening for now.

(It helps their argument that it’s not exactly clear when the injury happened.)

The less promising news is that Mike Sullivan believes that Crosby will miss about a week, with number 87 carrying a day-to-day designation. Take a look at the remainder of the Penguins’ November schedule for some context:

Thu, Nov. 15 vs. Tampa Bay
Sat, Nov. 17 @ Ottawa
Mon, Nov. 19 vs. Buffalo
Wed, Nov. 21 vs. Dallas
Fri, Nov. 23 @ Boston
Sat, Nov. 24 vs. Columbus
Tue, Nov. 27 @ Winnipeg
Wed, Nov. 28 @ Colorado

So, if Sullivan is correct, Crosby would miss somewhere between 3-4 games. If things progress more slowly than anticipated, it could sting quite a bit more, considering the Penguins’ two back-to-back sets on Nov. 23-24 and Nov. 27-28.

The Penguins were already struggling, and no Crosby takes a little steam out of the acquisition of Tanner Pearson, but it sounds like things could have been a lot worse.

The earliest indication from Joe Smith of The Athletic (sub required) is that Vasilevskiy could miss three-to-four weeks, although that could change. Considering how crucial mobility is for goalies – who can’t really be “hidden” in the lineup, compared to skaters who might get by at far less than 100 percent – this is a troubling injury.

On the bright side, the Lightning have at least built a playoff buffer for themselves, as their East-leading 25 points gives them a six-point cushion against the three teams outside on the bubble (Capitals, Hurricanes, and Flyers) right now. As Smith notes, the Bolts also don’t deal with the sort of back-to-back sets that could really exacerbate this problem, at least not until early-December (when they face road games against the Devils and Red Wings on Dec. 3-4).

They don’t have much of a lead in the daunting Atlantic Division, however, as the Maple Leafs (who won’t feel a lot of sympathy with Auston Matthews out) only behind by one point in the same 18 games played.

While Eddie Pasquale has been recalled to serve as a backup, Louis Domingue is set to be the workhorse until Vasilevskiy returns, unless the Lightning decide that they need to bring in outside help via a trade. This continues a remarkable journey for Domingue, who was pondering quitting the sport altogether not so long ago.

That’s a cool story, but it could be more maudlin if he struggles. The Penguins and Lightning play on Thursday night in a game that’s suddenly depleted of significant star power.

(Luckily, both teams are still pretty loaded, even if they’re more vulnerable to slumps now.)

The Bruins are expected to provide more information as they take a longer look at the 41-year-old’s knee, whether that examination happens on Friday or possibly later. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty notes that the tree-sized defenseman has dealt with knee issues before, so here’s hoping that the fitness freak avoids the worst.

If nothing else, the B’s have been able to (mostly) weather the storm of defensemen injuries so far, as both Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy have been limited to seven games played apiece so far in 2018-19. Granted, McAvoy is still out and Brandon Carlo is also banged up, so it remains to be seen if Boston can fight off all of these issues.

  • The Nashville Predators are off to a hot start to the season, which is comforting to think about as they grapple with some troubling injuries.

Not long after being activated from IR, scrappy scoring machine Viktor Arvidsson is back on it, as the team announced that he’s expected to miss six-to-eight weeks (ouch) with a broken thumb (double ouch). Winning the Central Division won’t be easy with that first-line spark plug missing such a big chunk of the season.

It’s not clear how long they might be without P.K. Subban. He’s currently considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Nashville is rightly praised for amassing impressive depth during this salary cap era. That depth looks to be tested, particularly if Subban’s issue forces him out for more than a brief lull.

Moments after this post went up, Nashville announced that Subban is on IR, so that’s not promising.

  • The Washington Capitals are finally being bit by the injury bug after sporting freakish levels of repellant under the Barry Trotz regime. It’s unclear, however, how hard they’ve been bitten. It may not be clearer until Friday, if not later.

Still, it’s wise to keep an eye on Braden Holtby, T.J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov going forward.

  • As a reminder, the Anaheim Ducks announced that surgery is scheduled for Cam Fowler on Friday, as he’s dealing with some nasty-sounding facial injuries. This could be quite the painful pill to swallow, considering how awful Anaheim’s looking on defense as of late. The specific timetable is unclear, but that doesn’t sound good.
  • Rotoworld’s injury listings could be handy for those who want even more updates, such as Tomas Hertl being day-to-day for the San Jose Sharks. That’s especially true for those who are deep in the woods from a fantasy perspective.
  • There hasn’t been a ton of great news, although it sounds like James van Riemsdyk is finally slated to return for the Philadelphia Flyers against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.