The Ducks arrived at the halfway point of the season at a blistering pace and ahead of everyone else in the NHL except Atlanta. Game 41 came on New Year’s Eve and now is the perfect time to look back at what has gone right, gone wrong, and what needs to happen in the second half.
The Ducks are 20-17-4 with 44 points. They are eighth in the Western Conference, but that is a position that is tenuous as teams below them have more games in hand. They are also fourth in the Pacific Division, leading only the Phoenix Coyotes. However, only seven points separate Dallas and Phoenix, and the Division is likely to continue to flip flop until April rolls around.
If the Ducks have an identical second half, that would give them 88 points, which will not be enough for the Ducks to get into the playoffs. Historically, a minimum of points in the low 90’s is required. Therefore, the Ducks need to have a better second half than first, but they are not in a significant hole at the midpoint, which is a positive. Points are extremely difficult to make up, and right now the Ducks are in the thick of things.
Things to improve – their road record. While 12-6-1 at home, the Ducks are 8-11-3 on the road. Home will always be stronger for the majority of teams, but if you can be at the .500 mark on the road, or better, it will go a long way to getting in the post season.
Old wisdom states that if your power play and penalty kill percentages add up to 100% or more, you are in good shape. The Ducks meet that criteria.
The power play is 8th overall in the NHL at a 21% success rate. Anaheim remains stronger at home than on the road and improving the power play on the road would go a long way to getting wins on the road.
Corey Perry leads with seven power play goals, but Teemu Selanne is right behind with six goals. Selanne is ninth all-time with 226 power play goals in his career. That is more than one out of three of his 616 career goals scored on the power play and this season’s pace is no different, with six of his ten goals coming with the extra man.
The penalty kill is 23rd overall at 79.9%, relatively the same at home and on the road. If the Ducks can improve their penalty killing by even one percent, they could improve to to the top 15 teams.
The Ducks They are still looking for depth scoring beyond the top two lines. Perry, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Getzlaf have combined to score 48 of the Ducks 107 goals this season. Selanne, Saku Koivu and Jason Blake are responsible for another 28. 17 goals have come from the defense.
Perry’s 20 goals and 43 points puts him in sixth place in points in the entire NHL. This is the fourth season in a row that Perry has scored at least 20 goals and he recently got his first career hat trick.
When the Ducks get goals chipped in by their third and fourth lines, they have a much better chance of winning games. The recent addition of Joffrey Lupul back to the line-up should help with offense. After missing an entire year with back surgery and a pesky blood infection, Lupul has four goals in 13 games and should only improve as time goes by.
The loss of Scott Niedermayer to retirement left a huge hole in the Ducks defense. Toni Lydman, acquired as a free agent, missed training camp and the first four games of the year with double vision. Lydman has added a calming presence to the blue line and his plus/minus is +21, second overall in the NHL.
How significant is that plus/minus stat? Only five other players on the Ducks have a positive plus/minus. Everyone else is negative. Somehow Lydman continues to get the job done and is adding unexpected points from a guy who was supposed to be a stay at home d-man. If he continues on pace, (he has two goals and 15 points), he’ll have a career year in points.
Cam Fowler, who was drafted in June, not only made the team, but was handed a low number just a few weeks into the season. The 19-year-old has been a revelation and has three goals and 18 points. He is second amongst rookie defensemen in points and leads rookie d-men in assists. A broken nose kept him out of the line up for six games, but Fowler will only continue to improve. Already there are plenty of teams who are kicking themselves for not drafting Fowler, who went 12th overall, when they had the opportunity.
Lubomir Visnovsky, acquired at the trade deadline last season, continues to be a good addition to Anaheim and has contributed offensively as well as defensively.
However, the depth of the defense is still questionable. Despite that, they still are getting the job done, for the most part. Any improvement will only continue to help the Ducks down the line.
Jonas Hiller began the season as the undisputed number one goalie for the Ducks. Hiller has borne most of the goaltending load this year and leads the league in shots faced with 1,119. He has a .923 save percentage, ninth in the NHL, and a 2.58 goals against average. When he is good, he is very, very good and he has two shutouts for his efforts.
Curtis McElhinney continues to do well as the back-up, and often has been left high and dry by the Ducks. Nonetheless he has been relatively calm and steady in net when called upon and has a .911 save percentage on the year.
The Ducks have more home games remaining than road games and will finally have a schedule that is less compressed than the first half. A little more rest between games and a little more home cooking should benefit the Ducks, who tend to finish stronger in the latter half of the season historically.
If the Ducks can get a bit more offense from beyond their top line and improve the power play on the road, their chances of winning games will go up. Continuing to play strongly against their division rivals will help as well.
Last season the Ducks went 23-14-4 in the second half, earning 50 points. If they can have a similar record or better this season, that would give them 94+ points and a good chance of playing in the post-season, something they missed out on last year.
For the Ducks, the points matter in every single game from here on out.