The Anaheim Ducks struggled to score goals in 2015-16, to put it mildly. They ranked 26th in the National Hockey League in goals scored at even strength, two goals back of the moribund Arizona Coyotes. Based on that number alone, there’s a legitimate reason to believe that the Ducks should have missed the postseason.
Naturally, the issue of puck luck arises anytime goal-scoring is the topic of conversation. Anaheim had none, finishing 28th in the league in even strength shooting percentage. The fact that they not only made the playoffs but also won their division given such a low percentage serves as a testament to the outstanding job that Bruce Boudreau and his staff did over the course of the season.
Many have chalked up the Ducks’ scoring woes to plain old bad luck. There’s certainly some credence to that notion: a team as seemingly good as Anaheim shouldn’t have struggled that badly to score goals over the course of 82 games.
The Ducks were 21st overall in sheer scoring chances at even strength, trailing teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs (who weren’t trying to be good). That’s an eyebrow-raising figure considering that this Anaheim roster includes potential Hall of Famers in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. That’s before mentioning the playmaking prowess of Rickard Rakell and the offensive fearlessness of Sami Vatanen.
Were Anaheim to have finished in the top five (or even top ten) in scoring chances, then the “bad luck” argument would have a lot more weight. The fact that they had such a hard time generating chances weakens it significantly. To frame this issue even further, Anaheim finished 18th in terms of high-danger scoring chances (shots coming from inside the slot).
So what should be the takeaway when crunching all of these numbers together? The Ducks were unlucky to some degree but more than anything they were really bad at putting the odds in their favor. It’s unrealistic to expect the puck to bounce your way when you generate scoring chances at barely the league-average while generating shots at a well-below-average clip.
Much-Needed Change In Philosophy
The Ducks have become known for playing a “heavy” game in recent years, asserting themselves by playing a physical brand of hockey that entails a dominant forecheck. In 2015-16, they also added a vaporizing defensive game to their resume, shutting down the opposition to compensate for their lack of offense.
The trick will now be to match that intensity in the other team’s zone as well. More east-west passing, less time spent cycling the puck around the perimeter. General manager Bob Murray needs to find a coach that will add his own offensive flair to a team that’s already established itself on the defensive end, and the player personnel to implement that philosophy.
David Perron, one of the Ducks’ best forwards in terms of scoring chance generation, needs to be brought back to continue growing the chemistry with Getzlaf. Christ Stewart and Jamie McGinn were nice pieces, but instead of scratching at the bottom of the bargain bin, Murray should save the extra cash from their expiring contracts and take a swing at options with a greater impact, like Kyle Okposo or Loui Eriksson.
No dollar amount spent on big-name forwards in free agency will truly matter, though, until a meaningful philosophical shift is executed. Yes, playing strong defense is absolutely key in a tough Western Conference, but the Ducks proved beyond all doubt that offense, or a lack thereof, is just as much a part of the grander equation. Much like Lindy Ruff in Dallas, the next Ducks’ coach needs to entrust his players to make plays and take chances. Anaheim has a strong enough defense corps to cover up some added wheeling-and-dealing on the other end.
Luckily, whichever man takes the job behind the bench will already have an excellent power play to work with. Anaheim was fantastic with the extra man down the stretch, which mitigated their even strength deficiency in a big way. Eventually, though, the well ran dry, and a team that came into the season with Stanley Cup expectations fell well short of that lofty goal. Unless Murray implements a significant change in philosophy, all signs point to the ugly possibility that a roster loaded with talent will once again be going home far too early.