We have officially surpassed the first quarter of the 2020-21 season, which means it’s time for report cards. Keep in mind, we will only be giving an analysis of the first 14 games of the season, in which the Anaheim Ducks finished with a 5-6-3 record, tying them for fourth in the West Divison with the Arizona Coyotes.
Not a lot of people thought the Ducks would have been in that position, let alone, be competitive in most of their games. While they weren’t perfect in their first 14 games, in my opinion, the team was a lot more enjoyable to watch than in the last few years.
Goals, Where Are You?
As we’ve learned over the last decade, to win games in the NHL, you need to score goals. While the Anaheim Ducks have been competitive for the first quarter of the season, one glaring weakness is their lack of scoring. They averaged about two goals per game. That would be tops in the 90’s/00’s, when the league leaned more towards defense. That no longer being the case, the Ducks were second-worse in the league in goals scored, only Detroit was worse at 1.93 GF.
One of the main reasons why the Ducks are struggling to score can be linked to the Ducks not bringing up Zegras to the big show until most recently. While there was a debate about whether it was a good idea to bring Zegras up this season, it’s safe to say that his performance isn’t the reason he wasn’t being brought up to the big club.
While the Ducks are struggling to score goals, one person who has shone above the rest is Max Comtois. People who have raved on this kid are looking good right now. Comtois leads the Ducks with 5 goals in his first 14 games, adding 2 helpers for 7 points overall.
I’m starting to like him because, unlike Nick Ritchie, who was penalty-prone, Comtois has shown that he can play physically and not put himself in the sin bin. He gets better as the season goes along, and who knows, maybe he and Zegras can be lethal together.
Another guy who I’m starting to change my mind about is Troy Terry. I’m not saying that he’s an all-star who has arrived. What I will say is, Terry has shown why he belongs in the Ducks franchise. His goal against the Vegas Golden Knights in early February was the catalyst that led the Ducks to a comeback before losing 5-4 late in the third. He also contributed to the win over San Jose in the Ducks’ 2-1 shootout loss.
The Ducks’ power-play unit isn’t something to be excited about as far as goals are concerned. They only scored three goals in forty-one PP opportunities in the first 14. What I do like though is how they’re getting better at attacking on special teams. In their last game against Vegas, Ryan Getzlaf’s PPG tied the game at four. If the Ducks can start finishing those chances off, they will look formidable moving forward.
In the end, while the Ducks aren’t scoring in bunches, things seemed as though they were starting to click. They won’t be like the high-scoring teams in the league, but once they start clicking, they’ll be a threat.
Somewhat Solid Defense Saves The Day
While the Anaheim Ducks struggled to score more than two goals per game, what they were strong at is defense. They gave up only 2.59 GAA, putting them in the top 10, at number 7 overall, in the league. The Ducks’ style of defense may not look pretty, and sometimes, Gibson is the glue that keeps the team from looking like hot garbage, but the fact that the Ducks were able to end the first quarter 7th in GAA with how they are presently constructed, one can’t say the Ducks stink at everything.
Like I mentioned before, John Gibson is the glue that holds the Ducks together on defense. Gibson gives up 2.48 GAA and had a .920 SV%. Those stats put him in the top half of the league. It also puts him in consideration for Vezina and possible MVP votes. Gibson’s ability to make ridiculous saves look so effortless is one main reason why the Ducks are looking competitive.
Gibson’s battery mate is Ryan Miller. Now, of course, Miller isn’t the starter, and he’ll be the first to say that he’s fine with it. However, despite him not being the starter, he’s fulfilled his role on several occasions. In fact, over the last few years, Miller has come through in the clutch when Gibson hasn’t played and has been the reason why the Ducks have won games. He may not be the prime goalie from his Vancouver/Buffalo/St. Louis years, but Miller can be an ace during the season when Gibson needs a blow.
As for the actual defense itself, the Ducks give up nearly thirty shots per game. That’s not surprising, considering the teams in the West division are high-scoring. Between Colorado, Vegas, St. Louis, even Minnesota, and Arizona jumping into the fray, the Anaheim Ducks don’t have an easy job.
Despite the competition, the Ducks gave up only forty-four goals in 14 games, putting them exactly 16th in the league. Can there be improvements, yes, but let’s not be like Chicken Little and say that everything is going down the chute.
One defender for the Anaheim Ducks that needs some love is Jani Hakanpaa. 6’5’’ and 218 lbs. of pure muscle, Hakanpaa has shown that he can stand his ground. While he won’t dazzle you with stats galore, Hakanpaa’s presence alone has me comparing him to a poor-man’s Zdeno Chara. Now, of course, he’s not on Big Z’s level, but the size and the presence alone, Hakanpaa is Gibson’s and Miller’s best friend. You want to get a shot on net, you got to go through Jani.
Though the Ducks’ defense looks respectable, the Ducks do need to cut down on the penalty minutes. While only ranking fourteenth in the league in PIM, the Ducks have given up power-plays like candy lately. While some are debatable, one thing is certain: if you keep your hand out of the cookie jar, you won’t be sent to the sin bin.
Two guys who do need to pick their game up, are Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk. Two of the veteran d-men, Cam and Kevin were -6 and -3 in plus/minus respectively. While Cam is doing well staying out of the penalty box, Kevin has spent a bit more time in the sin bin, spending twelve minutes overall. If he doesn’t want to be benched, Kevin must stay on the ice to defend against the West division’s elite scorers.
One good stat for the defense is their penalty-killing unit. The Ducks were surprisingly tied for first with Minnesota for only giving up three PPG’s. They rank in the top 10 at number 9 in times of being short-handed. The Ducks were number 2 in killing off the opposing team’s power-plays, only two-tenths of a percent behind Minnesota. While you don’t want to play with fire, the fact that the Ducks aren’t compounding the trouble is good to see.
Now, saying all that, the Ducks’ defense isn’t pretty to look at. There have been times where the defense has looked frantic and sometimes, they get pinned in their zone too much. However, the fact they are in the top 10 in penalty-killing, in the top half in overall defense, and Gibson looking like he wants to shut up the doubters, I can’t look at the defense and say that it looks completely horrible.
Finding Their Way
It’s time to forget about stats for a moment and rely on what my eyes have seen. In the last few years, the Ducks haven’t been competitive. Last year and the year before, they weren’t competitive when the season made its stretch run. They weren’t fun to watch, and there were a lot of underlying issues.
That being said, things haven’t been easy with Dallas Eakins. He’s made some head-scratching decisions early this year. While things haven’t been consistent, and there are those who say he shouldn’t remain as head coach, this year is a different ball game. The Anaheim Ducks were tied for fourth place in the West division after they completed the first quarter of the season.
Let that sink in. Tied for 4th with Arizona in a highly competitive West division with teams like Colorado, St. Louis, and Vegas that are assumed by the masses to finish in the top 3 of the division. You can’t forget about teams like Minnesota, Arizona, and San Jose, teams that aren’t going away. So, for the Ducks to start the second quarter of the season tied with Arizona, that’s showed a few signs of progress.
I also like the fact that outside of opening night and one game against the Blues, the Ducks have been in every game. Last year, the Anaheim Ducks went in several stretches where, midway through the second period, fans were wanting to turn the game off. Now, the Ducks are in dogfights against the top teams in the division and they’re fighting to the end. Have they lost more than they’ve won, yeah, but they’re fighting and as a fan of this team, that is all we can ask for.
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One huge reason why the Ducks are looked competitive can be their acquisition from last year: Nicolas Deslauriers. Nic is the Fulton Reed of the Ducks. He’s an enforcer, but he can also contribute on offense. He’s known to spark his teammates with fights against the other team’s big guys, and it’s shown that the team respects him as a leader. Nic may not be the captain, but I do think he’s a guy who the Ducks cherish.
Even the young guys like Comtois, Jones, Terry, and Steel are showing their stuff. While they may not be all-stars now, in a few years, they can be the team that finally brings the cup back to the OC. Even the young guys who are playing in San Diego are showing their stuff. While the past may not have looked pleasant, the future is bright and so is the Ducks’ future.
Eye Test: B-
Anaheim Ducks: The Final Verdict
While things have taken a dramatic dive going into the second quarter of the season, with a lot of hard work, there is still a chance the Anaheim Ducks could be in the hunt heading into the home stretch. They have the guts, they have potential, and more importantly, they showed early in the season that when things get tough, they won’t give up, but they’ll find a way to persevere.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. You have to see the signs of growth and appreciate the fight. Who knows, maybe this team will be like the 2003 team. Carried by a stellar goalie, a defense who doesn’t give up too much, and an offense that is starting to gel. If they get in the fourth spot and avoid Vegas or Colorado in the first round, a matchup against St. Louis doesn’t look too unwinnable. Let this team grow as the season progresses. As I said before, the future for the Ducks looks bright and it may start with a playoff berth this year.
Anaheim Ducks Final Grade: C+
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