Monday’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers may be the lowest point of the Anaheim Ducks’ season. The 4-0 defeat meant the Ducks dropped their eighth straight game, tying a franchise record. Specifically, the Oilers’ fourth goal might have been rock bottom. Milan Lucic dominated Brandon Montour to the point where he did exactly what the Ducks are doing now (falling on their backside), eventually leading to Leon Draisaitl scoring the goal.
All is not lost though. The Ducks are firmly in the playoff hunt, and all things considered, still have a strong chance of making the playoffs when you look at the most important factors like injuries, experience and opponents.
Ducks and Confusing Prediction Math
Playoff prediction websites have gained popularity in recent years. They use different formulas that yield varying results. Their predictions for the Ducks vary greatly as well.
Moneypuck.com, whose “about” page goes so in-depth on their formula it can make you cross-eyed, has Anaheim’s chances to make the playoffs at 29.2 percent. That might mirror how Ducks fans are feeling currently, but it seems a little off when you consider they have the St. Louis Blues at 30.9 percent. St. Louis has the league’s fourth-worst record, seven points behind Anaheim in the standings.
On the other hand, there are Dom Luszczyszyn’s predictions for The Athletic. Luszczyszyn projects the Ducks with a 56 percent chance to make the playoffs. That’s a two percent better chance to make the postseason than the Dallas Stars, who are currently in the first wild card spot, and three points above Anaheim. His method is also in-depth and complex, but the point is clear, it’s an inexact science. Instead of giving it a percentage, let’s look at the arguments for and against the Ducks making the playoffs.
Why the Ducks Could Get Plucked
There are reasons for pessimism. The Ducks continue to be one of the league’s most penalized teams while also sputtering on offense. Their margin for error is small and now that their offense has flat-lined, the results have been disastrous.
During their eight-game winless streak, the Ducks managed a paltry 1.4 goals-per-game. That’s a full goal worse than that same statistic for the team’s entire season so far, which is already the league’s second-worst. Now that Ryan Getzlaf is slumping, their offensive engine has ground to a halt.
Their overall performance for the season indicates that this is who they are; a team that has outbursts, but for the most part, they’re going to try to beat you with defense and goaltending.
John Gibson has played at an elite level all season, but often, the Ducks’ defensive effort and inability to maintain pressure in the offensive zone means that Gibson faces more rubber than even he can stop. The loss to the Oilers was a prime example. No matter how well he plays, he’s not going to stop the puck every time the Ducks allow opponents wide-open space right in front of him or when they get two or even three chances at rebounds.
On top of that, Randy Carlyle has played Gibson at the highest rate of his career. He’s now on-pace to start 69 games, by far the most of his career. Though his numbers are still elite and even more impressive considering his workload, they are trending downwards. From the start of the season until Dec. 1, Gibson had a .929 save percentage (SV%) and 2.47 goals-against-average (GAA). From the start of December until Sunday, he had a .910 SV% and a 2.96 GAA.
Gibson has played in seven consecutive games and 15 of the last 16. Though no one has said it outwardly, his heavy workload, both in games and action in those games, when combined with his declining performance suggests fatigue. For the Ducks, it’s a catch-22. If they don’t play Gibson, they’re starting with one hand tied behind their back in what is becoming a dog-eat-dog battle for a playoff spot. If they do keep playing him at this rate, they risk continuing to wear him out.
Ducks Not on Pace Right Now
According to a 2014 article from CBS Sports’ Adam Gretz, the “magic number” for points to qualify for playoffs has generally been 95. Some seasons it’s higher, some it’s lower, but it’s usually close to 95. This season, it’s likely to be a little lower. As of now, Luszczyszyn projects the Ducks to grab the last Western Conference wild card spot with 91 points. So, let’s call it 93 points as the target to comfortably reach the playoffs.
In order to reach that number of points, the Ducks need to collect 62 percent of the available points the rest of the season. That is 10 percent higher than their total season point percentage so far. If they were to sustain their current pace, they would tally 86 points by season’s end. This means the Ducks need to win at a much higher rate than they already are. Even though this seems dire, there are a number of factors that are in the Ducks’ favor.
The Sky Isn’t Falling on the Ducks
Now that the Ducks have fallen out of the playoff picture again, some fans might see the sky falling, but that isn’t the case. The ray of hope is (hopefully) improving health and a wealth of experience. Cam Fowler returned to the lineup against the Oilers after missing 23 games. No, he didn’t play well, but after missing that much time, there will be an adjustment period.
It appears Rickard Rakell is on the precipice of his return while Patrick Eaves is back to skating with the team. Corey Perry, in spite of his declining performances over the last two seasons, could provide some offensive depth to a team that is struggling to produce any.
Another important player due to return in the next month is backup goalie Ryan Miller. Miller will provide Gibson some much-needed rest as one of the game’s most reliable backups.
A healthy Ducks roster also brings experience. Of the teams they are now battling for playoff qualification, the Ducks have by far the most playoff experience over the past decade. Key players who have been on the roster during that success are still with the team. With playoff experience comes playoff qualification experience. This roster knows how to deal with adversity and maintain the consistency required over 82 games to make the playoffs.
Western Conference Bubble Battle
Ducks opponents in the Western Conference who are in the hunt for the final playoff spots haven’t done much to show they are true threats. The Ducks are a full 10 points out of the third spot in the Pacific Division, meaning they are firmly in the wild card race now. The other teams in that race are the Vancouver Canucks and the Oilers, who are on the outside looking in. The Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild and the Stars are currently in the playoffs, but in danger of falling out.
None of those teams, aside from the Wild, have much playoff experience in the last decade. In addition, none of those teams except the Stars have stepped up and gotten hot during the Ducks’ losing streak. The Stars’ record in the last 10 games is 6-3-1, which has them back in the first wild card spot, but only three points up on the Ducks.
The next best record in that time belongs to the Canucks, who have gone 5-5-1 and are still below Anaheim in the standings with two more games played. The Wild have won three in a row to climb into the final wild card spot by virtue of playing two fewer games than the Ducks while having the same amount of points.
The point is that the Ducks’ timing has been good. As bad as their record has been, their poor play has come at a less than damaging point in the season. Their attitude during this trying time reflects their experience and composure. Hampus Lindholm demonstrated that calm after Anaheim’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights Friday in a quote to Eric Stephens of The Athletic.
“You look over the good things you’ve been doing and the things you can improve, and then you let it go,” Lindholm said. “You bring that good stuff with you for the next one. Just get out there and play the same way. Try to get a win.” (from ‘As Ducks Drop Points, Optimism Hinges on the Return of Familiar Faces, but Will they be Enough? – The Athletic NHL – 1/06/18)
The Ducks Will Make It
When considering all of the factors, including the team’s experience, players returning from injuries and the teams the Ducks are competing against, the sky is not falling. They will, as they have for the past six seasons, qualify for the playoffs. It’s what they do when they get there that is a much bigger question.
All Stats from NHL.com and Hockey-Reference