Addressing the Anaheim Ducks Trending Issues

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 03: Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (15) on the bench during the first period of a game against the Arizona Coyotes played on October 3, 2019 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 03: Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (15) on the bench during the first period of a game against the Arizona Coyotes played on October 3, 2019 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA. (Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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The Anaheim Ducks look like a better team than last season, from a visual perspective. However, there could be a few trending issues that shouldn’t be overlooked.

It’s nine games into the 2019-2020 season and the Anaheim Ducks are sitting 9th in the standings, with the equal 3rd highest number of standings points. Who amongst you predicted that would be the case during an offseason in which Nicolaus Deslauriers was one of Bob Murrays biggest acquisitions? Nonetheless, here we are.

While a nine-game sample is still on the small side, perhaps it’s just long enough to begin picking through the data to see the differences between this season’s team and last year’s disappointing finish. While no two seasons are alike, naturally, most fans will want to see a tangible change between the once-savior of the game-7 Randy Carlyle’s coaching, and the new chosen one, Dallas Eakins‘, teams.

The differences in style are obvious for all to see, thus far. From a purely visual perspective, the Ducks of this season are entertaining to observe. When they get the puck in the offensive zone, they break forward in waves rushing at the opposition, or at least that’s how it seems. The youth that the Ducks have brought in, are energetic and up-tempo. They have seemingly taken shots at will, and with those shots have come numerous scoring chances. Defensively, it seems as though Cam Fowler has had a resurgence, after being stifled under Carlyle’s restrictive systems play— ignoring if you will that Fowlers best seasons have thus far come under Carlyle’s tenure.

Trending Downwards?

Seemingly backing up this visual test, the Ducks have reportedly presented an attempted Corsi-for rate (CF/60) of 54.8 attempts per 60 minutes of play. An improvement from last season’s 54.2 mark. However, it should be noted that the league itself has shifted in dynamic, thus the Ducks while improving internally, have fallen further from the league average.

Specifically, the Ducks find themselves sitting at 97.1% of the current league average, opposed to last season’s 99.1% mark. This may in effect be a statistically insignificant number, it is also worth bearing in mind that the Ducks are trending downwards for this metric as the season progresses. That is to say that as a team they are producing less positive Corsi events per game.

The decreasing trend in CF/60 naturally follows a decreasing trend in shot attempts, and subsequently, a decreasing trend in scoring chances (SCF/60) can be observed.  As with CF/60, the Ducks are presenting with stronger SCF/60 numbers as a group, between this season and last. This season, the Ducks find themselves 0.5 attempts per 60 minutes of play better off.

Fortunately in this instance, like CF/60, the league’s paradigm has shifted. While still below the leagues average of 26 per 60 minutes, the Ducks have improved from being 1.6 below the mean, to merely 0.4 below. It is, however, concerning that the Ducks are dropping their total number of scoring chances on a per-game basis, given that they already sit underneath the league average mark, and that they are currently the league’s 22nd ranked team for goals per game.

Interestingly, high-danger attempts seem to be trending in a positive direction, and against the downward trending shots, Corsi, and scoring chances. At face value, the Ducks are getting 0.7 more high danger attempts per 60 minutes of play, this season as opposed to last. With changes in the league, this change has resulted in them going from 97.7% to 114.5% of the league average.

A massive swing, and as stated, one that is seemingly going to increase as the Anaheim Ducks get more and more of them on a per-game basis. It’s a tough one to puzzle out, but it seems like the Ducks are forgoing lower percentage shots, in an attempt to produce better ones. Given their expected goals for (xGF/60) has remained relatively stagnant over the short 9 game season thus far it’s hard to determine whether this change in offensive strategy is a positive move or not. Time will tell.

Individual Performances

On an individual basis, the Ducks have 20 players returning from last season, including Michael Del Zotto who was traded away and then signed as an unrestricted free agent over the offseason. Driving the changes in team performance is a tough thing to get a handle on, however, there are a number of things that spring to mind. Initially, the average time-on-ice (TOI) of this group has decreased by just over 30 seconds per game. While players like Brendan Guhle have seen significant upticks in ice time, the majority of the players have seen a marked decrease.

As Coach Eakins balances the minutes going forward this may change, however, at present it appears that the Anaheim Ducks are going to attempt to run four relatively equal forward lines. In essence, reducing the top players minutes should reduce their fatigue levels over a game, and over a season, thus allowing them to perform at high levels (in terms of physical abilities, and a reduced number of mistakes) at the later stages of a game. Intrinsically, the perception is that the Ducks as a team have performed better in the second and third periods, so there may be something to this.

Following this decrease in minutes, and working hand-in-hand with the teams overall decreasing shot metrics 10 of the 20 players have seen a decrease in their overall shots per game. Perhaps more importantly, however, is how skewed these numbers are. While the group as a whole has seen only a minimal dip in shots per game, this dip is supported in a large part by two players. Adam Henrique and Troy Terry, have both improved their shots per game rating by over 5 per game. Only two other players have improved by over 1 shot per game.

This suggests that as a group they are falling away in this aspect of the game, and given the downward trend of shot rates as a team, this may be concerning moving forward for overall scoring. Following on from this, 14 of the 20 players have reported a decrease in individual Corsi attempts per game, 11 have reduced their number of scoring chances, and 13 are getting fewer high-danger chances. All of which have accumulated to 13 of the 20 carryover players reducing their individual expected goals per game ratings. As with shot attempts, the overall numbers are buoyed by Henrique and Terry, primarily.

Is This a Sustainable Model to Build Around?

The question should be asked moving forward whether this is a sustainable model to build around. On one hand, the improvements by Terry are notable. It isn’t unfair to suggest that he has a lack of finishing ability, however, the overall improvement in his game is impressive. On a team with a genuine scoring threat, he could be a very good piece slotting into the middle 6 forward group. On a team looking for that scoring touch, he could be a very attractive asset to dangle in trade talks.

The flip side to Terry’s improvement, however, is the dip from the Ducks 30-goal scorer, Rickard Rakell. In recent games, he has played on one of the hottest second lines in hockey alongside Henrique and Jakob Silfverberg, and there is certainly an argument that those two players have stolen much of his thunder (both players are shooting above 44% in the past week alone). However, moving forward the Anaheim Ducks will want to maximize the abilities of their most gifted offensive goal scorer.

Perhaps another point of interest is that despite increasing the rates of high-danger chances as a team and appearing to be a much faster team, the group of 20 holdover players are presenting significantly fewer rush attempts and are creating significantly fewer rebounds. While these methods aren’t the only way to create shots with high scoring potential, they are two significant methods. A decrease in overall shooting rates will certainly contribute to a decrease in rebounds created, however, the question must be asked that if this is the case, will the Anaheim Ducks high-danger chances remain at a high rate?

Another potential rationale is that the shooting players (i.e. Henrique) are scoring at a high clip, and thus are scoring goals instead of creating rebounds. Whether we see an increase in rebounds will be interesting to see, as these players regress towards their career shooting marks.

Thus, offensively as a team, it’s interesting to see how perception shifts our vision. From a purely visual perspective, the Ducks appear to be a faster-skating team. Perhaps they are. However, given they’re producing fewer rush attempts, are they using that skating effectively? It was pointed out by the Ducks commentary team a few games ago, that the Ducks seem to be confused entering the offensive zone as to who should be filling which lanes. A comment that made a lot of sense at the time.

Disorganization in the Offensive Zone

The Anaheim Ducks do often seem disorganized in the offensive zone, and while they are certainly passing the puck more, in many cases there seems to be little purpose to that puck movement. There certainly have been highlights, with individual plays dragging you out of the seat. However, in many cases, the Ducks passing game seems inches off target. If the pass was just that little bit more accurate, or that little bit harder, perhaps the receiving player gets a shot off. Unfortunately, the receiver being just slightly out of position is unable to do so or perhaps refuses to do so given the not-perfect shooting conditions.

Perhaps a more selfish approach would yield stronger results? For instance, Sam Steel bobbled a received pass against the Flames and had to forgo a yawning net. If that pass was a little more perfect, does Steel one-time that shot? Score or not, it would have resulted in a shot and a scoring chance, and while an obvious example, improvements in his statistics would have been seen. Perhaps, it’s plays like these that are the result of the season to season decline across players? Once they start connecting, will the statistics improve, and will the results follow?

Dissecting the Defensive Game

While the offensive side of the game has some work to do, the Ducks defensive game is stronger than it appears. It isn’t much of a stretch to suggest that the Anaheim Ducks appear to be lost on the defensive side of the puck and that they’re being bailed out by great netminding on many occasions. This is undoubtedly true, as John Gibson (and Ryan Miller) have performed strongly thus far this season. However, that in itself would be unfair to the defensive changes overall.

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It is absolutely true that the Ducks are presently giving up more Corsi attempts (CA/60) per 60 minutes of play, than the league average. However, this discounts the 2.7 attempt swing from last season. Perhaps more importantly, it ignores that the Ducks are better than league average on the defensive side of shot attempts, scoring chances, and high danger chances. All of which have improved from last year’s efforts as well. In fact, only two teams are currently allowing fewer high-danger attempts than the Ducks.

If a criticism could be made, it’s that the Anaheim Ducks are allowing a relatively high proportion of the shots against them to be scoring chances. This while the overall rates of shot attempts, and scoring chances, are lower, many of the shots taken are scoring chances. Even the ration of high-danger attempts to shots against is lower. This suggests that while somewhat defensively sound, when they are not able to regain puck possession quickly, they are giving up higher percentage shots on net.

Given that expected goals against, and high-danger chances against, have remained relatively stagnant over the season to date, this could be a trend to look at moving forward. Particularly given goals against is trending upwards (towards the negative). Nonetheless, as the team with the lowest goals against per game average, the Ducks have some room to move. With one of the games best goaltenders manning the net, it seems likely that the Anaheim Ducks will remain in the upper echelons in this facet of the game.

Warning Signs Cannot Be Ignored

Taken together, it does appear that the Ducks are onto a good thing. While many of the underlying numbers are trending in a negative fashion, they have a little room to move. There’s no doubt that this is currently a “better” team than that of last season, however, there are also a number of warning signs that coaches would do well to look at. Similarly, with below-average numbers in many facets of the game, fans too would do well to stay calm on nights where things don’t go their way.

For instance, players like Nick Ritchie are never going to be premier goal scorers. However, he ranked #1 for CF%, SCF (and iSCF) and HDCF, and 5th (amongst forwards) for xGF% for rates at ES/60, 4th in Shots/60, 8th for ixG/60, 4th for penalties drawn, 2nd for hits, and 4th amongst forwards for blocks over the past week. That’s pretty good going for anyone, let alone a much-maligned player. The Ducks do need to find someone to score goals at a regular clip, but players getting those chances shouldn’t be taken down for not finishing their excellent work, and contributing to the overall team improvement.

**All data courtesy of nhl.com and naturalstattrick.comAll data is correct as of 21/10/19, and is only applicable to even strength.**

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