Last season, the Anaheim Ducks’ special teams impacted the team’s turn around from last place to a fourth straight Pacific Division title. A year later, it’s a different tale. This year, the Ducks (16-10-5) are second in the division with 37 points, even without the benefit of top-flight special teams.
In 2015-16, the Ducks finished tops in the league in both the power play with a 23.1 percent success rate and penalty kill with an 87.2 kill rate. In 2016-17, both units have dropped despite that Trent Yawney and Paul MacLean are still in charge of the penalty kill and power play respectively. The Ducks sit 20th in the NHL (80.4) shorthanded and third (22.8) with the extra man advantage.
Penalty Kill Woes
One season ago the Ducks locked opponents down on the penalty kill. At one point in 2016, Anaheim posted a franchise-record 34 consecutive penalties killed.
This year, it’s a complete 180. The unit has taken a few steps back to 80%. However, the Ducks have played without a pair of key PK pieces — early holdout Hampus Lindholm and injured Simon Despres, who is on long-term injured reserve (with concussion-like symptoms). Lindholm has returned to give depth on the PK, but Despres remains sidelined.
The Ducks have surrendered 10 power-play goals in the last 13 games. To say the unit is ineffective is an understatement. Which is ironic considering it’s the same key pieces aside from Lindholm missing games earlier in the season and Despres sidelined since Oct. 13. Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson and Trent Yawney all have been constant pieces since the PK unit set a franchise-record 87.2 kill efficiency and finished 1st in the league for the first time in team history.
“Some are bounces,” Kesler said earlier this month to the Orange County Register. “Some are just … we got to kill the full two minutes. They score in the last 30 seconds, it still counts against us. And I think bounces, faceoffs, clears and just blocking shots (are needed). Killing the whole penalties. Not just a minute thirty or a minute fifty. Kill the whole thing.”
The PK’s ineffectiveness is due to lapses late in the kill, failing to step into shooting lanes, being unaggressive and caught puck watching too often.
“We can describe it in various different ways,” Carlyle said to the Orange County Register. “But as we’ve stated before, you can have success in the NHL with a power play that’s mediocre. But if you have mediocre penalty killing, you’re not going to have success.”
With the key PK cogs back from last year, there’s no reason this unit shouldn’t be at or near the top of the league.
Finding Rhythm On The Power Play
After a sluggish start, the Ducks’ power play flipped a switch and they now have the 3rd-best conversion percentage in the league.
However, the PP success depends largely on the top guns – Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Fowler and Sami Vatanen – playing north of three power play minutes a night. The unit clicked and began to put the puck in the net at a better rate than earlier in the season.
Could relying on one unit give opposing teams an easy game plan to defend the Ducks PP? Possibly.
When the Ducks are ineffective on the PP, it’s because they fail to possess the puck or set up because they try to be too fancy; also, they don’t get enough bodies near the crease. The Ducks find success on the PP when they play simple, go to the dirty areas, get the puck on net and screen the goalie.
Special teams can be the difference between wins and losses. It’s in the Ducks’ best interest to soul search on the penalty kill and to continue to build chemistry on both power play units if they want to make the playoffs.