Ducks’ injury problems could derail hot streak

1 Comment

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:

***

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.

***

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.

***

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 sign GM Bob Murray to two-year extension

Getty
2 Comments

The Anaheim Ducks have committed to general manager Bob Murray for a few more seasons.

The team announced on Saturday that it has signed Murray to a two-year contract extension that will now run through the end of the 2021-22 season.

“Bob has created a winning organization with his commitment and expertise,” said Ducks’ CEO Michael Schulman in a statement released by the team. “We are very pleased to be in a position where expectations are high virtually every season, thanks in large part to Bob and his staff. We passionately share a common goal – bringing another Stanley Cup to Orange County.”

Murray has been the Ducks’ general manager since early in the 2008 season and during his time has guided them to eight playoff appearances and two trips to the Western Conference Final.

He was an assistant general manager when the team won its first Stanley Cup during the 2006-07 season.

Currently, the Ducks sit in second-place in the Pacific Division three points behind the Calgary Flames.

[Related: Ducks’ winning streak: luck, skill, Gibson?]

They are also a team that seems to be at a bit of a crossroads and where they go next is a bit of a mystery. Are they still a team that has a chance to seriously compete for a championship in the coming years? Or are they an aging team nearing a time where they have to start looking toward the future? The on-ice results in terms of the standings have been fine this season, but they’ve also been bailed out pretty consistently by their two goalies, John Gibson and Ryan Miller, and that may not be a long-term recipe for success given the way the rest of the team has played. They are one of the worst possession teams in the league and have also been outscored by 14 goals on the season, the fifth-worst goal differential in the league and by far the worst of any team currently in a playoff position. Not many teams make the playoffs with a goal differential that bad, so something is going to have to give there. Injuries have certainly played a role in some of those struggles, but the team has definitely been dependent goaltending and some good luck going their way this season.

Overall the roster on paper — when healthy — looks pretty good and has some talent, but they also have a lot of aging stars on big contracts, specifically Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler, all of whom are signed for at least the next three seasons at a combined salary cap hit of just under $24 million per season.

Whatever direction they decide to go in over the coming seasons, the Ducks have committed to Murray being the person in charge of it.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Ducks’ winning streak: luck, skill, Gibson?

4 Comments

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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Golden Knights look to get back on track vs. Ducks

Getty

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Anaheim Ducks and Vegas Golden Knights at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

No team has been as consistently inconsistent as the Ducks. They’ve gone through some positive stretches, but they’ve also had to endure a seven-game losing skid already.

Like Vegas, the Ducks have also been hit hard by the injury bug. Ondrej Kase, who returned to the lineup on Monday, missed the first 18 games of the season, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves have also missed a significant amount of time, and they also started the season without Ryan Kesler. They also lost Cam Fowler in the third period of Monday’s win against Nashville (he’s day-to-day).

The fact that they’re tied for a Wild Card spot (Colorado has two games in hand) is pretty impressive when you consider they had a long losing streak and they’ve been without key figures all season. So, how have they been able to keep their season on the rails? Simple, it’s because of John Gibson.

The 25-year-old has been extraordinary between the pipes for Anaheim. His 6-6-3 record and his 2.47 goals-against-average don’t do him justice, but his .931 save percentage shows just how efficient he’s been.

A win over the Golden Knights would allow the Ducks to string together back-to-back victories for the first time Oct. 14 and Oct. 17.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully something we can build off.” Gibson said after Monday’s shootout win over Nashville. “…It seems like we’ve been able to win one here and there, but not go on a run. Hopefully we can start stringing some together, take this as a stepping stone and build from it.”

What a difference a year makes for Vegas. At this time last year, the Golden Knights were the talk of the NHL because of how dominant they were. But as of right now, they’re closer to the bottom of the Pacific Division than they are the top.

Vegas has accumulated just 15 points in 18 games, which means only the Los Angeles Kings (11) are below them in the conference standings. Some of the magic seems to have worn off from last season, but it’s also important to note that they’ve dealt with some key absences. Paul Stastny (injured), Nate Schmidt (suspended), and now Erik Haula (injured) won’t be available for this game. The good news, is that Schmidt only has two games left to serve.

“You look at how our team is playing and what we did last year, playing fast was our No. 1 thing,” Schmidt said. “I think that’s something that we haven’t done as well lately. I really think that’s what it comes down to. When you’re playing fast, you have effort, you have guys buying in, you have discipline and you have all those other things. It is the underlying factor right now. If we get back to playing fast, the other things will take care of themselves.”

Max Pacioretty, who was the team’s biggest off-season acquisition, has gotten off to a rocky start. The 29-year-old has just two goals and no assists in his first 14 games as a Golden Knight. That’s not what they expected when they gave up Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki, and a second-round draft pick for him right before training camp. Something has to give with Pacioretty at some point.

Pre-game coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with a special on-site edition of NHL Live outside of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones, and NHL insider Darren Dreger. John Forslund (play-by-play), Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) and Roenick (reporter) will call Ducks-Golden Knights from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Fight: Jamie Benn’s vicious bout with Josh Anderson

6 Comments

In the rare moments when a star player fights, you usually grade them on a scale. You don’t really need to do that with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars.

The big winger isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, and he’s done so with some big names – and big humans – such as Dustin Byfuglien. Benn engaged in another frightful fight on Monday, as Benn and Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson were throwing bombs.

(You can watch that fight – which seems like it’s going to end quickly, but then just keeps going – in the video above this post’s headline.)

Earlier this season, Benn fought with New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood. Benn’s already matched his two fights from 2017-18 (vs. Byfuglien and Corey Perry). Considering we’re not even halfway through November yet, this could be an awfully ornery season for Benn.

You have to wonder if he’s tempting fate a bit – you’d call Benn’s hands soft when they’re not landing haymakers – in risking injuries with these fights. You can’t debate that by losing his temper, Benn’s leaving the ice for long stretches (decisions that can be especially onerous if he gets additional penalties).

On the other hand, hockey’s a rough sport, and perhaps being so physical helps Benn stay engaged?

Selfishly speaking, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to see him keep up this habit, as it’s quite the spectacle. Nothing will top his fight with Joe Thornton from many moons ago, which set the stage for a photo that would make for a great Fathead-style wall-sized poster:

via Getty

Classic.

Despite playing in different conferences, this game has had the nastiness of a heated divisional rivalry. You could see it in moments beyond Benn’s fight, particularly when Seth Jones was whistled for a nasty hit on Jason Dickinson.

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.