NHL Analysis: Anaheim Lurks In The West

The Chicago Blackhawks are all the rage in the NHL in this shortened season. Don’t look now tough, but the Anaheim Mighty Ducks are lurking in second place in the Western Conference. Anaheim’s only four points behind Chicago and has played one fewer game.  Are the Ducks the real deal, or are they a pretender in the West? That’s the question TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis will try and answer today.

In Anaheim’s favor is a stellar showing in 5-on-5 play (when there’s no power play in effect either way). They are the second-best in the NHL when the teams are at full strength. And when they get the man advantage no one has been better at cashing it in. The Ducks are balanced offensively and defensively, ranking in the top five for both goals scored and goals against. Viktor Fasth is giving them stellar play in goal, with his 92.9 save percentage ranking him fourth in the league.

Furthermore, Anaheim has quality talent in its regular five. It starts with Corey Perry, who won the MVP in 2011. Perry is on a brief suspension right now, but he’s having a good year with nine goals and fifteen assists. Even better, Perry’s track record suggests he can give much more. Both of those stats put him in the top 60 of NHL players, making him, on average, the second-best player on a team if talent were equally distributed. But Perry is more than capable of elevating to the top 15.

Thus we have a team that does almost everything well, and has a star player not quite playing at peak levels. All of these argue for Anaheim’s staying power.

Before you get set for a Ducks-Blackhawks conference final though, there are some negatives. It starts with shots. Put simply, Anaheim allows a lot of shots and doesn’t get very many of its own. They rank just below the league average at shot prevention. Fasth has bailed them out, but the team defense simply has to pick up.  And on the offensive side, Anaheim is 26th at pressuring the opposing goaltender. Is it really realistic to produce a top five offense over the long haul while ranking in the bottom five in shots? Or does the statistical disparity suggest some luck as it work here?

We can also pick nits with Anaheim’s penalty kill team, one of the five worst in the NHL, but that’s almost inconsequential when measured against the question of shots.  The issue would be whether Anaheim has the kind of team that can produce goals at a significantly higher rate than the shots they take and do it as a matter of course, rather than coincidence.

There are some positives here. The teams whose goals outpace their shots usually have a signature offensive player, one whom tends to cash in his own shots and create better opportunities for his teammates. Perry certainly qualifies. Center Ryan Getzlaff is having a top 30 offensive year, scoring 10 goals and dishing 21 assists, a total that ties him for fifth in the NHL. Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne are nice offensive options on the wing.

But the negatives outweigh the positives. If the statistical disparity were relatively small—let’s say Anaheim ranked 10th in shots while being 3rd in goals, you could say that the quality of a player like Perry makes that sustainable. A gap between 26th and 3rd is positively monstrous and unless Corey Perry is ready to make Wayne Gretzky look like a bumbling stiff, there’s no way Anaheim can sustain this.

Therefore you have to put me the category of skeptic when it comes to Anaheim. They are a good team, genuinely playoff-caliber, and they have an offensive talent that can potentially transform a game. But the fact they’re running this close to Chicago is more a fluke than anything else. The guess here is by season’s end, Anaheim will be on the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff standings and open the postseason on the road.