It's said that one can tell when teams are about to go through a solid run of form when they lose games that it seems they should win. For the Anaheim Ducks, the case can be made that the team deserved a better fate than going 0-2-1 over the final three games of their road trip. Back in the friendly confines of the Honda Center, the Ducks turned that promise in to points. Presenting the Best and Worst of Anaheim's 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators:
Best: Is Ricky Stewy Cakes Legitimately Becoming A Thing?
Last season the combination of Rickard Rakell, Emerson Etem, and Jiri Sekac became a favorite amongst the analytically inclined portion of the Ducks fans base for their regular ability to not only post advantageous shot attempt percentage numbers, but to regularly do so to a high degree.
This year, despite much line-juggling in the early going, Rakell and Sekac have played the most even strength time with Chris Stewart on their right wing, and the results have been strikingly similar. The trio are all in the top five for the team in shot attempt percentage amongst players who've appeared in more than half of Anaheim's games, and last night had their breakthrough on the scoresheet with Stewart potting a goal and dishing two assists, while Rakell had a goal and an assist.
Rakell, after being a blogger favorite last year, is starting to see wider praise from members of the traditional print media that covers the team this season, and rightfully so. He's the team's leading scorer through 11 games, and has regularly looked amongst if not the outright best skaters on ice for the Ducks this season. If he can continue to produce in a gradually-expanding role with Sekac and Stewart it will only be a good thing.
Worst: ...It Might Not Be, Thanks To A Lower Body Injury
Unfortunately Sekac appeared to be injured twice during the game, each time making awkward contact with a Predator player at his leg. The first was at center ice, with the player falling on his leg, the second time was Sekac crashing in to the near boards and landing awkwardly falling to the ice.
He and Rakell have been good together since being put together last year. It would be a shame if that burgeoning chemistry with Stewart were cut short thanks to the lower body injury that ended Sekac's night early last night.
Best: Steady Freddie Finally Gets A Win
Raise your hand, who was tired of seeing all the tweets and hearing all the talking points about 'how good Frederik Andersen has been playing but is still winless'? Obviously he was as well, posting his second-highest save total for a game since opening night in San Jose.
I've been drawing parallels between Andersen and Capitals goalie Braden Holtby fairly regularly over the course of the last season- physically imposing goalies who had strong first years in the league primarily as a backup, posting high save percentage numbers, only to have that stat drop below league average in their first season as a starter. Holtby rebounded in a big way in his second full season as a starter while playing for a new contract, and out of the gate this year Andersen has been much the same.
Worst: Fortress Third Period
The return of the shot attempt chart, as well as the debut of the scoring chance chart from HockeyStats!
The defensive shell the Ducks retreated in to for the final 25 minutes of the game is pretty evident. Not coincidentally, this was the time frame when the Dallas Stars were able to complete their roaring comeback against the Anaheim last week. While the final result for the Ducks held up, it's still a bit concerning to see so little in the way of offensive push-back when defending a lead. You're asking a lot of both your skaters and your goalie to continually absorb wave after wave of pressure from the opposition, and as was illustrated just that week.
It's similar to a 'prevent' defense in American football, where teams allow the opponents all the short routes they want, just keeping everything in front of their defense and trying to tackle or knock them out of bounds as quickly as possible. In theory it makes sense, but you're ceding more and more ground every play, and against an efficient offense it can be short matter until they're down the field and in scoring position- death by a thousand paper cuts if you will. The same is true in hockey; efficient teams can and do take advantage of opponents sitting back. With the speed and emerging forecheck this Ducks team is starting to show, one would like to think they could do more as far as generating offense to prevent having to spend so much time defending while holding a lead.
Best: Depth Charged Up
The story of snakebitten Corey Perry and goal-less Ryan Kesler (which sounds like the WORST fan fiction from Battle of California or Jewels From The Crown folks) continues, but it's nice to see that scoring it starting to come for the team even if it's from tertiary roles. The team needs Perry and, when he returns, Ryan Getzlaf to start scoring, and to a lesser extent Kesler, but it's nice to see for the time being that one of the concerns about the team in preseason is beginning to be answered in earnest with depth scoring starting to show up. Ducks fans should embrace it, could be one of the realest moments.
3) Rickard Rakell
Two points on the night, but Ricky had a hand in three of them. Be it beautiful individual moves to shake off a defender like on his goal, controlled entry in to the zone that lead to the second, or a surgical pass from the near point to the bottom of the far circle for the fourth goal, Rakell has been showing an expanded repertoire thus far this year. It's so neat when the underground bands you like finally start getting mainstream exposure.
2) Frederik Andersen
His second 40 save performance of the season to earn his first win. Through nine games and eight starts this season Andersen is averaging just over two goals against per 60 minutes, and his save percentage is up at .935. After all the questions over the offseason about how he closed the playoffs out against Chicago, seeing a clearly better, more experienced version of him performing well out of the gate is a good thing for Anaheim.
1) Chris Stewart
What more need be said than his stat line? A goal and two assists, plus coming to the defense of Rakell when Paul Gaustad kinda-but-not-enough-for-a-penalty boarded him in the first period. The analytic numbers have looked good this season in a lower line role, the same sort of spot that he flourished in last season with the Wild, so to see some actual scoring heft put on those fancy stat bones is nice.