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Ducks sign GM Bob Murray to two-year extension

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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?

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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

Associated Press
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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

The Buzzer: Backstrom nets hat trick; Wilson, Johnson get ejected

Associated Press

Three stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals

Tom Wilson’s tomfoolery shouldn’t detract from the night Nicklas Backstrom had on Friday. Backstrom recorded a hat trick, including scoring the game-winner and assisting on a fourth Capitals goal for a four-point night. The hat trick goal was placed into an empty net and the first goal of the game was him, as well. The secondary assist he picked up led to Andre Burakovsky‘s third-period marker that put the Caps up 3-1.

A man known for his elite passing abilities, the three-goal night was just Backstrom’s second of his career.

2. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

For roughly 54 minutes of the game, Curtis McElhinney was penciled into this spot. Just a day after the Carolina Hurricanes placed both faith in him and pressure on him following the waiving of Scott Darlin, McElhinney looked destined for his first shutout of the season.

It was not to be, of course. The Ducks scored to force overtime and then Ryan Getzlaf slotted home the winner in the extra frame. And lost in the shuffle, perhaps, was the performance of Gibson, who made 33 saves in the win.

The Ducks don’t score a lot of goals, so Gibson needs to keep as many pucks out of the back of the net to make up for the lack of run support. He did that on Friday, giving Anaheim a chance to win, which they obliged.

3. Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames

Backlund put his stamp on the game early, scoring 36 seconds into the first period. He’d then give the Flames a 3-1 lead to seal it with 32 seconds remaining in the game and assisted on the 4-1 goal with eight seconds remaining.

A three-point night for Backlund, then, who is now riding a three-game point streak. Calgary sits atop the Pacific Division with 32 points. They’re 6-3-1 in their past 10 games.

Ejection(s) of the night

Highlights of the night

Tremendous:

Gritty, still king:

Holtby:

Head fake:

One-hander in OT:

Factoids

Scores

Panthers 3, Sabres 2 (OT)

Capitals 6, Devils 3

Ducks 2, Hurricanes 1 (OT)

Flames 4, Kings 1

Blues 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)


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