Ducks defy the odds with strong goaltending, even strength play

Despite being dreadful on special teams, the Anaheim Ducks have the most points in the NHL through 16 games. And the reason for their success is depth in net and steady contributions from every skater.

After the pre-game skate Monday morning, New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault called out Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks for having their first power play unit out against his team despite having a 6-0 lead in a game early in the season. Boudreau responded by asking whether Vigneault had seen the Ducks power play lately. If so, he’d know that was nothing to worry about.

The Ducks continue to defy logic. They have the worst power play and the second-worst penalty kill in the NHL, but hopped onto their charter Monday night with the highest number of points in the league, thanks largely to the fact they compiled a 5-2-1 record on their recent 15-day road trip.

The Ducks are staying at the top of the league because they’re dominating at 5-on-5 play and getting terrific goaltending. And both are because they’ve taken the attitude that many hands make light work. As far as 5-on-5 is concerned, the Ducks are getting contributions from everyone from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to Patrick Maroon and Daniel Winnik. Their depth at both forward and defense are a testament to the outstanding job GM Bob Murray has done. I mean, Devante Smith-Pelly finally gets his chance to get into the lineup and he scores five points in seven games.

But as the Ducks showed in their 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers Monday night, their depth in goal is unrivalled in the NHL. Don’t look now, but 6-foot-4 Danish rookie Fredrik Andersen is making an early case for Calder Trophy consideration and giving the Ducks both a quandary and a potential windfall. With 32 saves against the Rangers, Andersen outplayed Henrik Lundqvist and was a huge factor in the Ducks winning the last game of their trip. The win bloated Andersen’s numbers to 4-0-0 with a 1.36 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage.

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Andersen has provided a small sample of work, but has done nothing to dispel the notion that he’s an NHL-caliber goaltender. The Ducks certainly think so, which is likely why they signed him to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of just $1.15 million beyond this season. All of which makes for an interesting situation in Anaheim, particularly when Viktor Fasth returns from injury. When that happens, the Ducks crease will be rather crowded, with Andersen, Jonas Hiller and Fasth all vying for playing time.

The most likely candidate to be dealt would be Hiller, who turns 32 in February and faces the prospect of unrestricted free agency after this season. And while the notion is that the goaltending market is something of a wasteland, there are teams that need a quality No. 1 stopper if they hope to make any inroads. One team that comes to mind is the New York Islanders, who made a statement trade by acquiring Thomas Vanek and would hate to see their upward trajectory halted by sub-par goaltending.

And if Hiller is dealt and neither Fasth nor Andersen ends up being able to handle the No. 1 job, not to worry. The Ducks also have in their system 20-year-old John Gibson, who is one of the best American League goalies (1.81 GAA and .951 save percentage) in his rookie season. Come to think of it, the Ducks could have the rookie of the year in the NHL and the AHL and they could both be goalies.

Meanwhile, the Ducks win over the Rangers, combined with the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 triumph over the Detroit Red Wings, continues to make West vs. East look like the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals. So far this season, teams in the Western Conference have a record of 63-26-9 record against Eastern Conference teams.