For a moment there, it appeared everything was primed to turn around in Anaheim.
After a tough start to the season, the Ducks had battled back to rattle off streaks of four and five wins in row, picked up 11 victories in 13 outings and had risen from Pacific Division basement to challenge for top spot in the group by mid-December. But as quickly as Anaheim had appeared to iron out their woes, powered in part by a more plodding, defensive-minded play style, the Ducks again find themselves foundering in the West.
Sunday night’s contest, a 4-0 loss at the hands of the likewise-struggling Edmonton Oilers, was one of great frustration for Anaheim. Taking on a club that had just been walked over by the same score some 24 hours earlier, the home side threw everything at Edmonton’s Cam Talbot. They finished the contest with 39 shots on goal. They limited the Oilers to only 24. The possession game at 5-on-5 was stunningly lopsided in the Ducks’ favor. The same can be said for the scoring chances. But when all was said and done, Anaheim skated away carrying the weight of an eighth consecutive loss, and the hard work done to drag this team back into post-season contention has almost been entirely erased.
As they wake up Monday morning, the Ducks do so clinging to the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference, and with a Minnesota Wild win over the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim may go to bed Monday night seeing their grasp of the conference’s final playoff spot disappear. Gone, too, is the relative closeness between the Ducks and divisional rivals such as San Jose, Vegas and Calgary, who hold anywhere from an eight to 11-point lead on Anaheim for a spot in the Pacific’s top three.
The most concerning aspect of Anaheim’s slide down the standings is that the Ducks have been unable to right the ship defensively and are continuing to play some of the leakiest own-zone hockey in the NHL.
When breaking down the Ducks’ season into two segments — the first 22 games vs. the past 21 games — Anaheim’s turnaround in attempts against and raw shots against appears impressive. During the first segment, the Ducks allowed nearly 66 attempts against per 60 minutes at five-a-side with 34 shots getting through to Anaheim’s keepers per 60 minutes, according to NaturalStatTrick. Across the second, the Ducks have decreased their attempts against and shots against figures at 5-on-5 by 10 attempts and four shots per 60 minutes. That’s not nothing, but it does mask the fact Anaheim continues to have issues protecting the prime areas of the ice.
You see, while the Ducks have seen a marked improvement in suppressing scoring chances and high-danger chances at per 60 minute rates — decreases of roughly 6.9 and 1.4 from the first to second segment — the overall rates remain among the league’s worst. The Ducks have allowed 27 scoring chances and 12.1 high-danger chances against per 60 minutes over the past 21 games. That makes them the 10th and fifth-worst team in those categories, respectively, over that span. As one might expect, that puts an awfully heavy workload on goaltender John Gibson. Of goaltenders to play at least 10 games since mid-November, only the Chicago Blackhawks tandem of Corey Crawford and Cam Ward have stared down more high-danger shots per 60 minutes at five-a-side.
But there are some silver linings here, reasons to believe that this eight-game skid won’t entirely derail Anaheim’s season, the first of which is Gibson.
Despite the exhausting amount of action, Gibson has turned in the league’s third-best 5-on-5 SP, .934, over the Ducks’ past 21 games. He’s also stood on his head against those high-danger chances, turning in a .874 SP on those shots. And there’s also reason to believe that Anaheim’s luck could turn at a moment’s notice given there’s some incredibly awful shooting luck at play.
Yes, the Ducks give up plenty of chances, but they’ve begun to balance it with decent scoring chance and high-danger chance generation at five-a-side. According to NaturalStatTrick, over their past 21 games, Anaheim ranks 14th in scoring chances and 19th in high-danger chances per 60 minutes, and during this eight-game losing streak, the Ducks’ scoring chance rate has actually climbed slightly while the high-danger chance rate has remained the same.
So, the difference between winning 11 of 13 during one span and losing eight in a row during the other? A distressing four percent shooting percentage at 5-on-5 since this eight-game slide began. That’s incredibly significant when the margin between snapping this streak and seeing it drag out even longer has been razor thin, too. If you exclude empty-net goals, the Ducks’ eight-game slide has been highlighted — if you can call it that — by five one-goal losses. The first loss, in fact, saw the Ducks come within 40 seconds of earning at least one point against the New York Rangers only for a late shorthanded goal and empty-netter to give the Blueshirts a two-goal win.
Eventually, and likely sooner rather than later, the shooting percentage will come back around. And if Anaheim can start finding twine with some consistency and further shore up their defensive-zone play, which has already taken strides from the first quarter of the campaign to the second, there’s a possibility the Ducks could come out of this slump no worse for wear.