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.

Will the bounces continue to go Vancouver’s way in Game 3?

Every now and then, a team enjoys enough serendipitous moments that they start to seem like a “Team of Destiny.” There are times when even stat-heavy bloggers must concede – at least to some small extent – that a team might just be lucky. Maybe a little bit, at least.

Are the Vancouver Canucks getting all the bounces or are they just getting the job done, one way or another? After studying some of the highest and lowest moments of “luck” for the Canucks, it seems clear that they’ve had a mixture of good bounces and bad ones. It just so happens that they’ve been striking gold more often as the postseason marches on.

The Canucks were clearly the best team in the NHL during the 2010-11 regular season. Even still, they found themselves one overtime goal from elimination against their hated first round opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks. ‘Hawks defenseman Chris Campoli definitely made a bad pass that ended up being an Alex Burrows goal, but there shouldn’t be much doubt that the bounce also went Vancouver’s way.

(Then again, there were some evil bounces against the Canucks as the Blackhawks roared back into the series, too.)

Big bounce for the Canucks 1: Burrows scores on Campoli misplay.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

The Nashville Predators series reversed the trend of bounces, as Roberto Luongo was the victim of some wacky goals from behind Vancouver’s own red line. David Legwand’s second goal from Game 5 of their semifinals series is a great example of the bounces the Predators received/earned … but ultimately Ryan Kesler and the Canucks “made their own luck” enough times to win the series 4-2.

Bad bounce 1: Legwand’s second goal featured a rather odd bounce, which you can see as part of this highlights package from Nashville’s Game 5 win.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

The Western Conference finals began with a bad bounce for the Canucks and then ended with an even crueler bounce for the Sharks. Joe Thornton scored the first goal of the series when Luongo couldn’t clear the zone.

Bad bounce 2: Thornton exploits Luongo’s gaffe to begin the WCF with a groaner.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

Kevin Bieksa’s series-clinching goal came thanks to a bounce for the ages, as you probably remember. (Read this post for a fantastic take on that astounding tally.)

The biggest bounce of all? Bieksa stuns the Sharks with that off-the-stanchions knuckler.

This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!

In some ways, the Canucks seemingly won the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals thanks to lucky breaks (if not “bounces”), with the team barely avoiding being off-sides during Raffi Torres’ game-winner while Alex Burrows managed to get his own loose puck that ended up being a wrap-around goal to win Game 2 just 11 seconds into overtime.

Hopefully this post shows that four playoff rounds create both positive and negative bounces as puck luck ebbs and flows. That being said, some of the biggest breaks have gone Vancouver’s way so far – especially lately. That’s something the Canucks are aware of, as they discussed with The Globe & Mail’s Roy MacGregor.

Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault – who is familiar with bad luck, having been fired as coach of the Montreal Canadiens not long after being a finalist for NHL coach of the year in 2000 – thinks there may be something to the way in which bounces have been in Vancouver’s favour this spring.

“You’ve got to get some bounces,” he told the Vancouver media this past week. “You get the bounces because you’ve been doing the right things for a long time. And I believe Vancouver – and I’ve said this a couple of times – is due for 40 years of good bounces.”

With the series shifting back to Boston tonight (on Versus at 8 p.m. ET, by the way), the natural question is: which team will get the big bounces in Game 3? The answer to that question might also end up being the winning squad.