After a week of seeing the discussion of their issues shift to team make up, hearing public response from management in the paper of record, and analyzing what all it means, one could understand if the Anaheim Ducks were simply looking to get back to business after the three-day NHL holiday break. With the Philadelphia Flyers in town, another team struggling to put the puck in the net, it was an opportunity to build momentum heading into an important three-game division road trip. Presenting the Best and Worst of the Ducks and Flyers:
Best: Special Time Of The Year, Special Teams
The penalty kill has been the most consistent bright spot of the year for the Ducks, and with the exception of Michael Raffl's second period power play goal, the unit once again lived up to its tops in the league standing. While John Gibson faced 10 of his 26 shots against with the Flyers on the man advantage, only two came from the high danger area (one of which was the Raffl rebound tally) with over half coming from the perimeter. Shawn Horcoff's game-sealing shorthanded goal in the third helped close out another banner night for the kill.
On the other side of the coin Anaheim had their first power play goal in eight games, taking full advantage of a five-on-three with Ryan Getzlaf hammering one home in the twilight of the two-man edge, and Corey Perry poking a slow sliding rebound home through a ruck in front. Two for three with six shots was good work from the PP units, and that of the Ducks 11 attempts with the man-power advantage 10 were scoring chances is another highly encouraging sign. On a night where Anaheim pretty well controlled the game, the special teams were a large part of that tilt towards the home side.
Worst: Injury Fouls Up The Defense
Make no mistake about it, the decision to move Cam Fowler to top pair minutes was one of the key contributing factors to Anaheim breaking out of their season opening 1-7-2 stretch. Through October the Ducks were at a 49.0 shot attempt percentage at even strength, second worst in the league at 42.9% scoring chances and third worst at 43.6% high danger chances five-on-five. In the 24 games since November 1, Anaheim is top five in the league in all three categories, with Fowler and Kevin Bieksa seeing top minutes and toughest competition since November.
Playing only 3:36 for the game and leaving in the first period, afterward head coach Bruce Boudreau provided no update on Fowler and the club announced it as a lower body injury that will be taken day-to-day. The team has already had to play the vast majority of the season without Simon Despres due to a concussion suffered on a hit by Tyson Barrie back in October, and losing Fowler for any significant stretch would be a sizable challenge. Hampus Lindholm has flourished in a second pair role with Josh Manson, the question is whether they remain together or to what degree pairs get mixed up due to the injury.
Best: Getzlaf Gets The Message
One of the players many speculated the pointed words about physical fitness from general manager Bob Murray during the week were possibly aimed at was Anaheim's captain. Puck Daddy's Ryan Lambert has a piece out examining how the underlying numbers show Getzlaf has been in line with his career generation as far as shot attempts, scoring chances, and high danger chances go that is well worth a read. Still, wearing the 'C' and receiving the most dollars from the franchise means fans expect more than one empty net goal through 33 games.
Against Philadelphia Getzlaf had one of his best games of the season, becoming the second Duck to crack the 700 point plateau in franchise history with his assist on Perry's second period power play goal. The sense of relief was palpable after beating Steve Mason for his first period two-man advantage score, and for the rest of the game he was Anaheim's best forward with a +8 shot attempt differential at even strength while posting a +16 differential for the whole 60 minutes. For Anaheim to climb back into the playoffs, Getzlaf will be heavily relied upon, and with more nights like tonight it'll help him break out of one of the roughest patches of shooting luck he's endured since the 11-12 season.
Best: Ducks Defense Does The Job With Five After Losing #4
With Fowler going down to injury, as well as an early 10 minute misconduct issued to Bieksa for getting into it with Ryan White after a post play scrum had settled down, the Ducks defenders performed admirably. Granted, the Flyers are the second lowest scoring team in the league with middle of the pack shot attempt and high danger chance generation at even strength. To limit them to only 16 shots even strength shots for the game and 15 over the whole of final two periods, with five in the third was an impressive job.
Lindholm with 28:03 and Vatanen at 26:01 time on ice were standouts, asked to shoulder heavy minutes due to the circumstances with each playing significant special teams time. Manson was his usual shot generating force at even strength, while Clayton Stoner and Bieksa both finished on the positive side of the shot attempts ledger both at five-on-five and for the whole of the game. Stoner in particular made some solid plays with his stick in the third period, most memorably springing Andrew Cogliano to feed Horcoff for the shorthanded goal. With fewer bodies on the backend, the defensemen jumped up into the play less, and it translated to a night where the Flyers were held to nearly half of their shots coming from outside the scoring chance area.
3) John Gibson
As his stay with the Ducks has stretched, it's become more and more apparent the improvement in Gibson's game. Sure, there were a couple technical miscue moments, and he lost the puck looking the wrong way for it with traffic in front on the Raffl goal, but for the night he was solid and the defense seems to play tighter in front of him. If Gibson can continue to be a better than .920 save percentage goalie for the length of his three-year deal at a $2.3 mil. cap hit which kicks in next year, Anaheim will have one of the league's better values in the crease.
2) Ryan Getzlaf
With so much written about the team this week, and discussion focusing on what exactly is 'wrong' with him in particular, it was nice to see the engagement and offensive input from Getzlaf. Any time one can join Teemu Selanne as one of two in Anaheim franchise history it's a big moment, and earning point number 700 couldn't have been more appropriately done than assisting on Perry's goal. Lets see if, to borrow another Selanne-ism, cracking one in through a Ryan Kesler screen of Mason gets his goal-scoring ketchup bottle flowing.
1) Corey Perry
Two goals, getting the energy going in the first period by driving hard to Mason's net and starting the scrum that lead to Anaheim's first power play and eventual first goal of the game, it was pretty much a typical strong Perry performance. Three of Anaheim's goals went through the wickets on Mason, with Carl Hagelin (who had a solid performance on the second line as well) also trying five hole on his breakaway. It's very clearly something the team has scouted, the left pad slow to get down and seal in the butterfly, which is exactly what Perry took advantage of early in the third. For a player that thrives in acrimonious situations, there are few better teams to start the nonsense, and finish it with a game-winning goal against than the Flyers.