The Anaheim Ducks might be for real. Thanks to a victory against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night, they remain in first place in the Pacific Division with a four-point lead on the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks, who made their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final last season, may not be interested in the regular season all that much, saving their weary bodies for a deep playoff run. Still, it’s impressive that Anaheim has more points in the standings than a team that many would still describe as one of the best in the league.
The Anaheim Ducks.
Break-even CF%. Everything else is good/fine.
This surprises me very much. pic.twitter.com/MlSwQiGbr8
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) January 14, 2017
Ducks’ head coach Randy Carlyle, long criticized for being at the helm of analytically-challenged (read: bad) teams, is currently leading a team that looks quite good by most commonly accepted analytics. Not exactly a dominant puck-possession team, the Ducks have managed to control scoring chances quite well while limiting the quality of the opponents’ shots. However, almost all of their recent success has come against teams outside of the playoff picture.
In fact, Anaheim’s only loss in the month of January has come against the only true playoff team they’ve faced, the Minnesota Wild. Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers, who they beat two weeks ago, are now in the playoff picture — they have possession of the last wild card spot in the East with a nearly non-existent one point cushion, so make of that what you will.
The St. Louis Blues are anything but a fringe team. A deep squad with Stanley Cup aspirations, the Blues will give the Ducks a real run for their money. Though they haven’t dominated the standings, St. Louis remains one of the very best defensive clubs in the league, while boasting an impressive crop of forwards up front.
Goaltending remains an issue, but Jake Allen has shown enough potential to trust that he can recover from a lackluster start. It’s still unclear just how good the Ducks are this season, but a matchup against a true contender on Sunday night should make that quite a bit clearer.
St. Louis Blues at Anaheim Ducks
Honda Center – 6:00 p.m. PST
TV Broadcast Channels: PT25, FSMW
Radio Broadcast Channels: AM 830, KMOX
Dallas Stars: 22-16-5, 49 points
Road Record: 6-11-1
Hot Players: Alex Steen, Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko
Key Injuries: Carl Gunnarsson
Jaden Schwartz – Paul Stastny – Alex Steen
Nail Yakupov – Jori Lehtera – Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabri – Patrik Berglund – David Perron
Dmitrij Jaskin – Kyle Brodziak – Ryan Reaves
Alex Pietrangelo – Colton Parayko
Jay Bouwmeester – Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson – Robert Bortuzzo
Anaheim Ducks: 24-13-8, 56 points
Home Record: 14-5-2
Hot Players: Ryan Kesler
Key Injuries: Simon Despres (LTIR), Nate Thompson (LTIR), Clayton Stoner (upper body, 4-6 weeks)
Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg
Rickard Rakell-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Nick Ritchie-Antoine Vermette-Ondrej Kase
Joseph Cramarossa-Logan Shaw-Stefan Noesen
Cam Fowler-Sami Vatanen
Hampus Lindholm-Josh Manson
Shea Theodore-Kevin Bieksa
1) Remember Nail Yakupov? The first overall pick of the 2012 draft has firmly entered “bust” territory, but he’s at least found himself a nice role in a deep Blues lineup.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) January 14, 2017
He skated alongside Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko last night, and though it didn’t pay immediate dividends. his speed could end up being an asset in the Blues’ top-six.
2) Goaltending continues to be an issue for St. Louis. Allen had shown enough promise to give management the confidence to move on from Brian Elliott, who was outstanding in his Blues’ tenure.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) January 14, 2017
After having posted a solid .920 save percentage in 2015-16, the 26-year old is sitting on an ugly .900 mark. Outside of a sparkling performance against the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic, Allen has failed to even hit .900 in his last five outings. Needless to say, St. Louis needs him to turn things around if they hope to be playing hockey in late May.
3) Goaltending has been the last of Anaheim’s concerns as of late. After a rocky start to the season, goaltender John Gibson seems to be finally hitting his stride.
Ducks report: Goalie John Gibson maturing quickly at 23 https://t.co/i2PMLhsXGz
— L.A. Times Sports (@latimessports) January 12, 2017
In the month of January, the 23-year old has posted a .961 save percentage, spurred on by a 51-save performance against Philadelphia earlier in the month. Though Carlyle maintains that the Ducks have a “1A/1B” goaltending tandem, it’s plainly obvious that Gibson has firmly taken the mantle as Anaheim’s starter.
Though it’s nice for the Ducks that Gibson can run this hot, it remains to be seen whether he can provide a solid baseline of performance on a consistent basis.
4) Corey Perry will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest players in Ducks’ franchise history. His current campaign, however, has been historic in the worst kind of way.
Notebook: As scoring goals remain a challenge, Corey Perry appreciates his Ducks teammates looking out for him. https://t.co/RW4vcTLuUd
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) January 14, 2017
Through 44 games, he’s posted a career-worst 6.6 shooting percentage, a cavernous drop from his career average of 13.3. Now 31-years of age, he’s on pace for his lowest-scoring season since he was just barely old enough to legally purchase alcohol in the United States. Those surface-level numbers certainly don’t look good, but don’t be fooled; Perry is still getting to his favorite spots on the ice. He’s leading the team in shots on goal, so expect the soft-spoken veteran to start pouring the goals in at some point in the near future.
With a couple of exceptions, Anaheim will go back to a steady diet of mediocre teams after Sunday’s tilt. A win against a contender in the Blues would not only validate their recent success but also add some credibility to the quietly excellent numbers they’ve posted so far. Forgive the cliche, but it’ll be time to dust off the measuring sticks.