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.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks visit Ducks on NBCSN

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

Not that long ago, the Blackhawks and Ducks ranked among the biggest heavyweights in the West, if not the NHL.

For the Blackhawks, their hopes are now fading. The Ducks, meanwhile, are fighting to maintain their spot.

[WATCH LIVE – 10:30 P.M. ET]

It hasn’t always been pretty with Anaheim, but the Ducks are picking up steam. Remarkably, they ended a five-game road trip by rattling off four consecutive wins, and now they begin a four-game homestand. The Ducks are currently in playoff position (second in the Pacific with 33 standings points), and making the most of this stretch could really cement their position.

With that in mind, they’ll need to take care of business against the Blackhawks. Chicago isn’t the team it once was, yet with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Corey Crawford on their roster, the Blackhawks can’t be taken lightly.

[EXTENDED PREVIEW]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks
Where: Honda Center
When: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks – Ducks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

BLACKHAWKS

Brandon Saad / Jonathan Toews / Brendan Perlini
Dominik Kahun / David Kampf / Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincat / Dylan Strome / Alexandre Fortin
Chris Kunitz / Artem Anisimov / Marcus Kruger

Duncan Keith / Henri Jokiharju
Brandon Manning / Brent Seabrook
Gustav Forsling / Jan Rutta

Starting Goalie: Corey Crawford

DUCKS

Rickard Rakell / Ryan Getzlaf / Pontus Aberg
Nick Ritchie / Adam Henrique / Daniel Sprong
Andrew Cogliano / Ryan Kesler / Jakob Silfverberg
Kiefer Sherwood / Carter Rowney / Ondrej Kase

Brandon Montour / Hampus Lindholm
Jacob Larsson / Josh Manson
Josh Mahura / Jake Dotchin

Starting goalie: John Gibson

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.

The Buzzer: Quick gets first win, Aberg nets two in epic Ducks comeback

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Three stars

1. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

Quick needs to be eating for free for the rest of the year — his teammates owe him that after Sunday’s performance.

Alec Martinez, who scored the eventual game-winner late in the third period, told the Fox Sports broadcast that without Quick on Sunday, the Kings wouldn’t have been in contention to win the game if not for Quick. Truer words have never been spoken.

Quick made 34 saves — many of them coming in the ridiculous variety — including 14 in the third period and a couple when the Carolina Hurricanes were enjoying a 5-on-3 in the third.

It all adds up to Quick’s 50th shutout, and consequently, Quick’s first win of the season. He was 0-4-1 in five starts heading into Sunday after battling injuries and while playing on a poor team.

2. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

It’s not always Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen in Colorado (OK, it is most of the time). And while that line combined for every possible point (six) on both of Colorado’s goals in the game, it was Varlamov’s 24 saves that ensured that the Avs walked away from this one unscathed in a 2-0 win against the Detroit Red Wings.

The shutout was Varlamov’s first of the year (and 24th for his career) and he’s rocking a 9-5-0 record with a .930 save percentage in 19 games played.

The Avs have an 11-game point streak going.

3. Pontus Aberg, Anaheim Ducks

Unwanted in Nashville and then again in Edmonton, Aberg has found a home with the Ducks.

Before this season, Aberg only ever amassed a paltry two goals in each of the three seasons he played parts in before. As of the conclusion of Sunday’s game, Aberg has more than quadrupled that total with nine.

Two of those goals came Sunday with one being the 6-5 goal after the Ducks made history and clawed back from a four-goal deficit. Aberg has 14 points on the season, six more than his previous career-high with many games to come.

Other notable performances:

  • Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers — The Rangers didn’t win the game and they blew a 3-0 third-period lead, but none of that matters when it comes to Lundqvist who, if he wasn’t in the Rangers’ crease on Sunday, the scoreline may have hit double digits for the Winnipeg Jets. Lundqvist made several ridiculous saves, fitting of the man nicknamed the ‘King’. The Jets outshot the Rangers 42-19 in the game, including 8-2 in the overtime frame. Lundqvist was simply superb.

Highlights of the night

Here’s one from Quick:

Here’s another:

Here’s Shea Weber breaking Martin Jones‘ stick with a one-timer:

Here’s one of those Lundqvist saves:

Aberg’s winner, but watch the deft touch by Ryan Getzlaf:

Factoids

Scores

Ducks 6, Capitals 5

Jets 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Flames 3, Blackhawks 2

Sharks 3, Kings 1

Avalanche 2, Red Wings 0

Kings 2, Hurricanes 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

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.

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.