Anaheim Ducks: Roster Decisions Could be the Key to Defeating Colorado

Adam Henrique #14 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates with Cam Fowler #4 and Max Jones #49 (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Adam Henrique #14 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates with Cam Fowler #4 and Max Jones #49 (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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It’s been a rough trot the past few weeks for Anaheim Ducks fans. A 1-6-3 record over the past 10 games probably wasn’t what most fans were thinking at the start of the season when talk of being good enough for a playoff spot was making the rounds. For clarity’s sake, that one single solitary win was way back on the 11th of February against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Over that 10 game span, the Ducks have actually improved their scoring pace compared to the greater season as a whole. Well, 2.1 goals per game are higher than 2.04 goals per game, if only incrementally. Unfortunately, the Ducks’ goals against have also climbed from 2.92 per game, over the season as a whole, to 3.3 per game.

However, simply discussing goals doesn’t tell the entire story. For instance, the Ducks are getting ~2 extra shot attempts per 60 minutes of play between these last 10 games, and the month of the season preceding it. They’ve reduced shot attempts against by ~2.5 per 60 minutes.

This has translated to an additional ~1.5 shots getting on net, which is in likely a significant part of their slightly increased scoring. Most notably, however, they’ve reduced the shots getting through to the John Gibson by ~ 5.5 per 60 minutes of play. This is a significant step in the right direction.

Will the Anaheim Ducks Improved Play Finally Pay Dividends?

What does this mean for the Colorado game? Perhaps it means nothing. However, the Avalanche is currently a severely depleted team. They are missing key play drivers from the back end, in Cale Makar and Bowen Byram, alongside all-world star forward Nathan MacKinnon.

Even in last night’s game, the primary play drivers were Nazem Kadri, Valeri Nichushkin, and Joonas Donskoi. They’re fine players, but the Ducks wouldn’t be as worried about them as they would be the now de-fanged MacKinnon line.

That is to say, that NHL hockey can be a race to three goals, and the Avalanche may struggle somewhat to hit that mark if the Ducks can continue to contain their ability to get shots on net. Without the slick playmaking skills of Makar and MacKinnon, many of the Avalanche shot attempts last night came from relatively non-threatening areas.

The goals they did score in regulation essentially came from defensive breakdowns, not their own inspired play. With a game under his belt to get back to speed, there is the possibility that Josh Manson, who was already one of the Ducks’ better players, will be better able to control the flow of play.

From that point, it is merely the ability to turn defense into offense. The Ducks youth movement, for the most part, had a dirty night last night. At one point in the third period, Trevor Zegras, Isac Lundestrom, Troy Terry and Max Comtois were averaging a Corsi-for percentage of ~16% and an expected goals-for percentage of less than 10%.

While Zegras was essentially benched for the latter part of the third period after one particular gaff turned turnover, Coach Eakins went back to a Comtois-Lundestrom-Terry line, and they responded with an improved level of play. Lundestrom and Comtois have been a big part of the Ducks offense of late, thus if they can continue on from last night they may be able to make something happen tonight.

Will We Have Another Questionable Line-up?

What may throw a spanner in the works would be another questionable lineup decision such as what we saw last night. We would be traveling back a few years to an incredibly injured Ducks lineup under then-coach Randy Carlyle to see a Ducks team carrying seven defensemen. Back then it was Korbinian Holzer who was tapped on the shoulder to play a “defensive” forwards role.

Last night we saw a little bit more double-shifting of forwards. Perhaps somewhat interestingly, none of the defensive group saw as much as 21 minutes of play, suggesting that Mr. Eakins really did spread his minutes around. As difficult as it is to believe, given every time I seemed to look it was the same players making mistakes.

Nonetheless, carrying that many defensemen make it difficult to score, as for the most part, defensemen simply do not have the offensive capabilities as their forward counterparts. Brent Burns and co may choose to debate that small fact, yet the Ducks blueliners, of whom have not scored as many as 40 points in any of the past 12 years would probably agree.

For a team whose bugbear is potting goals, they simply cannot continue to ice that sub-optimal line-up and expect to win games. Of course one wonders if they truly do wish to win games, though that is a question for another day. We shall simply all have to hope that tonight the Ducks opt to ice a more conventional lineup.

Roster Decisions are Imminent

Perhaps one final consideration going into tonight’s game is that Trevor Zegras will trigger his entry-level contract should he play tonight (the 10-game requirement pro-rated to 7 games due to the shortened season), and thus bring forward his unrestricted free agency. Naturally, he will also sign at least one more contract as a restricted free agent.

While there are certain segments of the population who would consider that fine, there are still a few fans who may disagree. Essentially, the argument for keeping him up is that the Anaheim Ducks are more interesting (although not more successful) to watch while he’s on the team.

It’s unlikely he’ll score a lot on this roster thus there is a potential for his initial contract signed as a restricted free agent is much greater than could otherwise be the case. There is also some talk about him being “ready” for the NHL and that he won’t develop any further in the AHL, though that is mostly fan talk that shows a profound misunderstanding of how athlete development works.

The argument against keeping him up is that it’s likely a better situation for him to develop his skills in the AHL. Consider that last Zegras attempted a somewhat fancy move and turned the puck over resulting in a scoring chance for the Avalanche.

It was in the midst of what was a pretty dirty night for him overall, and the coach restricted his minutes from then on. It should be clear right now, that the NHL is not a development league for young athletes and the focus will be on making smart simple plays.

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When a player with the runs on the board, such as Ryan Getzlaf, attempts a move like that they may get some leeway. A young rookie who’s proven nothing will likely be sat down so that the coach can ice a player who is more likely to give them a steadier style of play and help them win the game. We, as fans, can debate that all we like, but it’s the reality of professional sport at a high level. They play to win.

The other counter-argument is that the ELC is a three-year process. Even if he doesn’t score much this season, are we automatically assuming he won’t score next season or the year after? If he has a big season in that third year of the deal, it won’t matter much what he did in this season when they come to talking contract terms.

Thus in that sense, it may be better to send him down and bring him back next season which may matter a little more. Then they can keep him for cheap for an extra year. We won’t be able to predict what the salary cap will by then, as shown by what happened these past two seasons with Covid-19, but if Zegras is good enough, they’ll make it work. It may have the unfortunate side effect of the Ducks no longer being able to afford overpriced and old past their prime defensemen, but I imagine we fans will live with that when it happens.

However, that is a roster decision that Bob Murray will need to make overnight. Given they took the chance that Troy Terry would continue to be a low scorer and not develop into a relevant NHL player, they may choose to do the same with Zegras.

Though one imagines that the Ducks with their current track record of developing forwards, would go out of their way to do absolutely everything different from what they normally do, given Zegras is the easily the best forward prospect the Ducks have drafted since Bobby Ryan – no offense to Kyle Palmieri. So what will Bob Murray do? We’ll find out tomorrow.

Next. 5 Keys to Leaving Victorious in Colorado. dark

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