What Are The Anaheim Ducks Doing?
The Anaheim Ducks are, by some miracle, two points out of first place heading into Tuesday’s tilt with the Vegas Golden Knights. Anaheim has a 5-5-3 record this year, but that’s good enough for fourth place in the West Division for the time being.
By points, they rank 15th in the league; by point percentage, 20th. However, Anaheim’s recent success is much more of a mirage than a trend. After finishing with the fifth-worst record in the league a year ago, the Ducks are using scotch tape and toothpicks to prop up their record this year. Before much longer, things are going to fall apart.
It Starts In the Dot
The chances to score are certainly there for the Ducks. This season, Anaheim has seen the third-most offensive zone faceoff opportunities in the league. Despite that, they are tied for 14th in offensive zone faceoff win percentage (52.7%).
It gets worse when you consider that even with all of those offensive zone starts, Anaheim doesn’t take advantage of the favorable ice position. The Ducks average the fourth-fewest shots per game (27), and the three teams with fewer shots per game have a worse OZ faceoff %.
Just by conventional wisdom, more offensive zone starts should generate more shots and more goals. But the Ducks are a statistical outlier in that regard.
“What about on the power play?” you might be wondering. Good question. The Ducks’ power play is practically non-existent, scoring on a league-worst 6.7% of their power play opportunities. Part of the problem there again goes back to their faceoff rate.
Anaheim has a 47.4% faceoff percentage while on the power play. So somehow, despite an overall 52.7% win percentage in the offensive zone, they get WORSE in the faceoff dot with the man advantage.
To Anaheim’s credit, at even strength, they’ve been excellent defensively and in net. The Ducks allow 2.54 goals against per game, the seventh-fewest against in the league, and the penalty kill is operating at 86.1%, the fifth-best in the NHL. John Gibson has been remarkable between the pipes, even with a massively underperforming team around him. He would likely garner a few Vezina votes if he played in a more traditional hockey market.
However, of the ten teams with the fewest goals against per game this season (where the Ducks rank seventh), Anaheim is the only team scoring fewer than 2.5 goals per game. In fact, based on point percentage, Anaheim and Arizona are the only two teams of those 10 who are outside of playoff position. Coincidentally, Arizona scores the third-fewest goals per game in that bunch. Good defense and good goaltending only get you so far. You have to be able to put pucks in the net to win games.
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Finding a Solution
So who should be shooting the puck? Ideally, it would be the younger players you would expect to be the team’s centerpieces going forward, particularly Max Jones (24th overall pick in 2016) and Sam Steel (30th overall in 2016).
Jones has one goal this season while averaging just under 13 minutes of ice time per game (16th among ANA forwards). He’s recorded four shots in six games. Steel averages just over 15 minutes of ice time per game (7th among ANA forwards) but has yet to score a goal this season. He averages 0.77 shots per game.
Both Jones and Steel also have negative SAT counts, meaning more shots have come from their opponents than from the Ducks. Jones (-22) and Steel (-14) have the fourth and fifth worst SAT counts among Ducks forwards this season, respectively.
Is it a coaching problem? I don’t know. I’m not in the locker room or at practices, so that’s a tough question to answer. What I do know is that they have the defense and goaltending to be competitive and make the playoffs, but they won’t get there until they start shooting the puck. If they’re going to wait for the [arrival of Trevor Zegras](https://twitter.com/usahockey/status/1356280208052011009), who was just named the AHL’s First Star of the Week, for that to happen, the Ducks will be too far gone by then.