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: Martinook gets first hatty; Skinner continues heroics

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Three stars

1. Jordan Martinook, Carolina Hurricanes

Martinook put the Hurricanes on his back with a hat-trick on seven shots that helped them to their third straight win. It took Martinook 269 NHL games to get it, scoring his third into an empty net late in the game to make sure the Florida Panthers had no chance of getting back into the game.

2. Calvin Pickard, Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers needed this one. A 31-save shutout by Pickard helped the Flyers end a four-game skid. The Flyers looked the part of a team determined, putting up 46 shots in their 4-0 win. For all that Philly’s crease has endured this season, Pickard provided a bright spot in Friday’s matinee on NBC.

3. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres

Who are you going to call when you need another late comeback? Well, it’s gotta be one of the hottest players in the NHL at the moment. Jeff Skinner scored his 16th with 2:26 remaining in the third period to send Buffalo to overtime against the Montreal Canadiens and then scored 3:06 into the extra frame on the player to notch his 17th goal of the season and, more importantly, Buffalo’s eighth straight win.

Other notable performances:

  • It’s not every night a shutout doesn’t cut it as a star, but it’s not every night that there is the maximum number of games in the NHL. Marc-Andre Fleury regained the shutout lead in the NHL with his fourth in a 29-save effort for the Golden Knights. He did so against the Flames, who had 13 goals in their previous two games.
  • Speaking of shutouts, Aaron Dell posted his second in as many starts after making 19 saves in a 4-0 win for the Sharks over the Canucks. He blanked the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 17.
  • Two goals and an assist for Sean Couturier in the Flyers win. He’s on a three-game point streak.
  • Another strong outing for John Gibson, stopping 27 shots in a 2-1 win for the Ducks over Edmonton in overtime.
  • Rickard Rakell had the OT winner in that game and also assisted on the Ducks’ other goal in regulation.
  • Nino Niederreiter took a fourth-line demotion in stride, scoring a goal and adding an assist on Eric Staal‘s game-winner as the Wild came back from 2-0 down in the third period to beat the Jets 4-2.
  • Tom Wilson had a goal and an assist to push his point streak to four games. He’s got three goals and five assists in six games this season.
  • Thomas Griess stopped 39 shots in a 4-3 overtime win for the Islanders over the Devils.
  • Cam Atkinson has scored in six straight games.
  • Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog each recorded two-point nights because that’s what they do.
  • Craig Anderson faced 54 shots, stopping 48 of them as Ottawa decided not to play defense in front of their starter.
  • Erik Karlsson had a goal and two assists for the Sharks.

Injury news

Highlights of the night

For this one, we go back to one of the day’s matinees

Eat your heart out, Brian Burke:

Martinook’s hatty:

Boyle scores on Hockey Fights Cancer night in New Jersey:

Madness in Minnesota:

Factoids

Scores

Flyers 4, Rangers 0

Ducks 2, Oilers 1 (OT)

Wild 4, Jets 2

Sabres 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)

Islanders 4, Devils 3 (OT)

Capitals 3, Red Wings 1

Golden Knights 2, Flames 0

Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 2

Bruins 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

Lightning 4, Blackhawks 2

Hurricanes 4, Panthers 1

Avalanche 5, Coyotes 1

Blues 6, Predators 2

Stars 6, Senators 4

Sharks 4, Canucks 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

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.

The Buzzer: Capitals keep party going, Matthews starts strong

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Three Stars

1. Auston MatthewsWith a booming shot to tie the game up 1-1, Matthews made a compelling argument that he probably deserved more reps on the Maple Leafs’ power play unit all along. In overtime, Matthews took a great feed from Patrick Marleau and scored the overtime game-winner.

Matthews certainly wants to be more than this, but if an Austin Powers nickname doesn’t work (Ron Howard: “It doesn’t), then “Mr. Opening Night” could at least be a good placeholder for the American forward.

With a contract year providing that extra bit of human nature motivation, and hopefully a clean bill of health this season, Matthews could put together a truly massive 2018-19 season.

He’s already shown that he has a knack for making great first impression, as tonight’s two-goal performance inspires inevitable comparison to Matthews making NHL history with four goals in his first game. Sure, he scored half as many goals, yet the Maple Leafs won this time around.

Also, if you’re into this sort of thing: Matthews: 2, John Tavares: 1.

2. John GibsonOpening night featured quite a few similar performances for goalies. You could make a legitimate argument for any one of Frederik Andersen and Jacob Markstrom enjoyed very similar nights, propping up their teams during moments of duress.

Gibson justified his status as something of a critical darling with a night like this, largely stealing this game against a loaded Sharks team. He stopped 31 out of 33 shots, and both of San Jose’s goals were brilliant. It seemed like they needed to be.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Sharks generated a 14-2 advantage in “high-danger” chances, but it didn’t matter. Gibson was that good.

3. Evgeny KuznetsovMuch like with Gibson (and Matthews), you could quibble with Kuznetsov’s placement in the top three tonight. After all, many players generated two points, and some hit three (including Rickard Rakell, Kuznetsov’s teammate Nicklas Backstrom, and Jakob Silfverberg).

Kuznetsov didn’t just stand out for scoring two goals (including a 2-0 tally that really started to dig the hole for Boston). The Russian center was a consistent nuisance for the Bruins, nearly netting a hat trick while firing five shots on goal.

As much as people wonder about Washington’s chances to repeat, consider that Kuznetsov generated 83 points last season, and might just be able to do that, well, back-to-back.

Highlight of the Night: Goodness gracious, Tomas Hertl scored a ridiculous shorthanded goal for the San Jose Sharks. It wasn’t enough to earn the Sharks a win or even a “charity point,” but it dropped jaws all the same.

Rough stuff

Along with Brad Marchand bloodying Lars Eller (way more on that here), Erik Gudbranson really got the best of Travis Hamonic to add injury to the insults of a tough night for Calgary.

Factoids

If Auston Matthews is “Mr. Opening Night,” then Martin Jones is … well, not. Or at least Jones isn’t “Mr. Opening Minutes.”

It seems like the Canucks might be the Auston Matthews of NHL teams … at least when it comes to opening night. Elias Pettersson made quite the rookie first impression in his own right, collecting a goal and an assist.

Chin up, Bruins fans; at least it’s been a long time since Boston’s endured such a rough opening night of NHL action.

Tonight’s scores

Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Capitals 7, Bruins 0
Canucks 5, Flames 2
Ducks 5, Sharks 2

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.