Famed and accomplished NFL coach Bill Parcells said, “You are what your record says you are.” By that measure our 9-2-1 Anaheim Ducks are a pretty good hockey team. By every other measurable statistic our Ducks are a very good hockey club.
Ducks are second in the Western Conference trailing the team they beat last night by just two points. They’re first in the Pacific Division. Their 19 points of a possible 24 points available has them third in P% at a scintillating .792 rate. They’re scoring at the rate of 3.25 goals per game likewise places them third overall in the NHL. These Ducks are either best or second best in even strength situations. Our Ducks sport the seventh most efficient PP and next to last PK.
From my perspective Goal Differential is the single most significant measure of a hockey team, aside from total points of course. By this standard our +9 Ducks are tied for fifth overall. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that our Ducks are also fifth in most Power Rankings this week.
While the record is indeed a great one, the numbers don’t tell us how they’ve done it and why we watch. It’s really quite a story.
He might be a late bloomer as a GM. Maybe these Ducks prove the rule, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.” Regardless, Bob Murray has earned credit in more than just a couple of areas. This entire report reflects well on him as a late bloomer or as the metaphorical blind squirrel.
Following the trade of Chris Pronger and retirement of Scott Niedermayer our blue line was in shambles. It’s taken four seasons, perhaps not surprisingly to re-assemble an elite level blue line but our Bob has done it. He also put back the size and snarl into a lineup that just couldn’t match-up physically in recent seasons.
As important, our Ducks have three scoring lines again. Our Ducks are deep and the most complete hockey team since the Stanley Cup edition. Through signing UFA’s, excellent drafts and trades that are beginning to pay off three seasons after they were made, Bob Murray has assembled an NHL elite level hockey team.
By late November of 2011 the once feared Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks had hit rock bottom. Like a drunk experiencing his first day of sobriety, the change from Randy Carlyle to Bruce Boudreau breathed new life into the team. It took a few weeks but as the team bought in they went on a rip that brought them within four points of the playoffs. Just as suddenly and perhaps not coincidentally, the streak ended the day our Ducks moved past the trade deadline.
This shortened season our Ducks are experiencing their first full with an asterisk year under the new coach. System wise, our Ducks do nothing different from what hockey players have known their entire lives. System wise, our Ducks now play support the puck hockey, up and back. This system places a third man high in the offensive zone and brings a third man back to support the D. And yes, we trap in the neutral zone.
Another primary difference between Coach Carlyle and Coach Boudreau is how each marshals his assets. Randy Carlyle relied upon his best players. Bruce Boudreau gives his depth players more time on the ice. As we’ve witnessed particularly in the past two games, Gabby will shorten his bench as he deems necessary in the third period.
BB is not so committed to tradition that he won’t show some creativity. For example, he surprised this observer by going back to No. 1 goalie Jonas Hiller after new guy on the block, Viktor Fasth earned a shutout. His forward lines are based on twosomes, Getzlaf/Perry, Ryan/Selanne, Koivu/Winnick and Bonino/Beleskey. He’ll move around his third forward based on instinct.
Last night Josh Brewster of Ducks Calls reported Coach referred to Daniel Winnick as his Brooks Laich. The go to player he can send over the boards in any situation.
In a move designed to spread out the scoring, and opposition defenses, he moved perennial 30+ goal scorer off the top line. Additionally, Coach has used Ryan to anchor the 2nd PP unit and has given it more TOI.
On the back-end Gabby has found a No. 1 pairing in new addition Sheldon Souray alongside Francois Beauchemein. This is the most hard-nosed pairing since hey day of Pronger-O’Donnell. New addition Bryan Allen will eventually be paired with the injured Cam Fowler. Toni Lydman and Luca Sbisa round the D pairings.
Not insignificantly our Ducks feature great depth along the blue line. They can call up future star Sami Vatanen or go with experienced hands of Ben Lovejoy, Nate Guenin or Jordan Hendry. Hampus Lindholm figures to get a look-see at the NHL level soon after he becomes available.
On the ice, where the games are won and lost, our Ducks are showing they have all the tangibles and intangibles necessary to compete with the NHL’s best.
Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth have provided winning if not always great goaltending statistically speaking.
The hard-nosed guys, Staubitz, Allen, Souray, Beauchemin and Winnick are sticking up for our skill players. Allen and Souray are doing the job expected of them in the low slot in front of our goalies.
Knowing someone has their backs, the remarkable composure of Viktor Fasth and how Coach is marshaling his assets is having a positive effect on the team overall. These Ducks aren’t quitting and giving up on themselves or giving in to a natural instinct for retaliation, for the most part. The second Vancouver and the Dallas games as the exceptions that prove this rule.
Whether it’s the league’s 29th worst PK limiting the league’s top ranked team to just one shot in nearly 4 minutes of a 4 on 3 or the timely scoring provided by Daniel Winnick and the kids, these Ducks just find ways to win.
Incredibly our Ducks are doing it while their most heralded player, Corey Perry is in a slump and their best puck moving D-man is out on IR.
This isn’t to say that the wheels can’t come off. Anything from a player stepping out with the wife or significant other of another player to injuries can destroy a good or great hockey team.
What we can say is that our Ducks have met every challenge in their way so far this season. As one great coach said, “They are their record.”
Note: Ducks have sent forward Rickard Rakell back to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. The moves leaves the full 3 seasons remaining on the player’s EL contract. Because no immediate announcement as to Rakell’s replacement is made, expect the Ryan to center experiment to continue with Koivu and Bonino moving up the depth chart if and when Coach elects to shorten his bench in the third period of close games.