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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Slumping Blackhawks take on red-hot Ducks

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

It’s been a miserable year for the Blackhawks. They’re currently lost four games in a row and they’ve dropped 15 of their last 18 contests (3-12-3). As you’d imagine, they find themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. The Blues and Kings are only two points away from catching Chicago.

Here’s a not-so-fun fact for ‘Hawks fans: The last time the Blackhawks finished last in the NHL standings was back in 1956-57, when the league was made up of only six teams.

“We’re seeing improvement in parts of our game at times and then it just seems like we make other mistakes and all the good things that we’re doing are never good enough,” said captain Jonathan Toews. “It’s frustrating when you don’t get the results. When you see pucks go in and you get wins, it’s just easier to mentally reinforce what you want to do as a team. It’s just not happening right now. We can’t sit around and sulk and think things will turn around that way. All you do is you keep working and stick with it.”

So, which areas of their game do they have to improve on? Chicago is dead-last on the power play (12.5 percent), 30th in goals allowed per game (3.68), 29th on the penalty kill (73.5 percent) and 26th in shots allowed per game (33.6). Yeah, that’s not good.

The Ducks are on the other end of the spectrum right now, as they’ve won four straight. Despite falling behind 5-1 to the Washington Capitals on Sunday, Anaheim managed to score five straight goals to complete the comeback.

[WATCH LIVE – 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“We still have to learn to play 60 minutes,” head coach Randy Carlyle said after the win over Washington. “Simple as that. It just gives you confidence that when you’re in situations and it seems maybe it would be insurmountable, that if you change some of the things that are going on out there as players and then get back to more blue-collar hockey, then we’re going to give ourselves a chance. You can’t say that we’re sitting here and we’re saying you’re going to come back in every game or come back down from three down, four down, any of that. That’s unrealistic.”

Anaheim have a minus-13 goal differential this season, but they’ve still managed to climb all the way to second spot in the Pacific Division. The Ducks have been looking for some scoring help, so they decided to trade defenseman Marcus Pettersson to the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Daniel Sprong.

Sprong has been a productive AHLer, but he’s had a hard time fitting in at the NHL level (he has four assists in 16 games this season). The 21-year-old should get a golden opportunity to become a regular in Anaheim.

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.

Trades: Penguins deal Sprong to Ducks; Leafs move Leivo

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Monday turned out to be a busy day on the NHL trade market with a pair of one-for-one swaps taking place.

Let’s get to the details.

Penguins give up on Daniel Sprong

The writing has been on the wall for a while now that Daniel Sprong was never going to fit in with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has not developed as the team hoped he would, he never gained the trust of the current coaching staff, and he hasn’t really performed when he has been on the ice.

On Monday, the Penguins finally traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for 22-year-old defenseman Marcus Pettersson.

It’s the classic “take our prospect that hasn’t panned out in exchange for your prospect that hasn’t panned out and let’s hope it works” trade.

There is no doubt Sprong has talent, but it has yet to translate to the NHL level.

Even if you want to argue that he hasn’t been given enough of an opportunity, he hasn’t really done much to convince anyone he has deserved more of a look. In 42 career games he has just nine points (four goals, five assists) and has never developed his game away from the puck. The Penguins spent the offseason talking about how he was going to be a part of this year’s team, and they gave him a ton of playing time in training camp and the preseason. But after a dreadful preseason performance he was back to being the odd-man out on a regular basis, and when he did get in the lineup he was consistently buried on the fourth line.

He never really did anything to play his way out of it.

Pettersson will add some defensive depth to an organization that badly needs it, but it remains to be seen if he will be able to crack the lineup or make any sort of an impact. The Penguins have tried to take on a lot of reclamation projects on defense over the years with very mixed results. He is also waiver exempt (unlike Sprong) so he could be sent to the American Hockey League without having to pass through the waiver wire.

Maple Leafs make room for William Nylander, trade Josh Leivo

With William Nylander finally back in the mix for the Toronto Maple Leafs on a six-year contract, they had to make some room for him on the roster.

That move was to trade forward Josh Leivo to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Michael Carcone.

Leivo appeared in all 27 games this season for the Maple Leafs, scoring four goals to go with two assists. After being selected by the team in the third-round of the 2011 draft he has mostly been a depth player over the past six years. Before this season he had never played more than 16 games at the NHL level. He might get more of an opportunity on a rebuilding Vancouver team that is short on depth.

The 22-year-old Carrone has spent the past three seasons playing for the Canucks’ AHL team in Utica. He has six goals and 11 assists in 20 games this season.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Golden Knights host Ducks on NBCSN

The NBCSN Wednesday night doubleheader continues with the Vegas Golden Knights hosting the Anaheim Ducks at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

Heading into 2018-19, both the Ducks (8-8-3) and Golden Knights (7-10-1) were hoping to begin the season with better records.

While their predicaments seem similar, they’ve gotten to this point thanks to playing very different hockey. The Ducks are being massively out-shot, yet John Gibson is often putting an “S” on his chest and saving the day. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are often dominating the shot clock, yet Marc-Andre Fleury and others have gone from leaping tall buildings in a single bound to more Clark Kent-level work.

Expect a fun atmosphere in Vegas, especially since the Golden Knights often compete with the lavish pre-game entertainment by playing high-octane hockey.

[WATCH LIVE – 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Anaheim Ducks at Vegas Golden Knights
Where: T-Mobile Arena
When: Wednesday, November 14th, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Ducks-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

DUCKS

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafPontus Aberg

Nick RitchieRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Andrew CoglianoAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Brian GibbonsKalle KossilaBen Street

Hampus Lindholm — Jacob Larsson

Andy Welinski — Josh Manson

Marcus PetterssonBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson

GOLDEN KNIGHTS

Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith

Max PaciorettyCody EakinAlex Tuch

Tomas NosekRyan CarpenterTomas Hyka

William CarrierPierre-Edouard BellemareRyan Reaves

Brayden McNabbColin Miller

Shea TheodoreDeryk Engelland

Nick HoldenJon Merrill

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

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.

WATCH LIVE: Sharks, Ducks meet on Wednesday Night Hockey

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The first night of NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season ends with the San Jose Sharks vs. the Anaheim Ducks at 10:30 p.m. ET.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

SHARKS
Timo MeierJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Tomas HertlLogan CoutureKevin Labanc
Evander KaneAntti SuomelaJoonas Donskoi
Marcus SorensenBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

[WATCH LIVE: 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live stream here]

DUCKS
Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafTroy Terry
Max ComtoisAdam HenriqueJakob Silfverberg
Andrew Cogliano – Sam Steel – Pontus Aberg
Ben Street – Carter Rowney – Kiefer Sherwood

Cam FowlerJosh Manson
Hampus LindholmBrandon Montour
Marcus PetterssonLuke Schenn

Starting goalie: John Gibson

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule