Though just two points separate the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs in the overall standings, the comedy that is the Pacific has Anaheim a single point back of Calgary for the final division playoff spot, while Toronto sits seven points back of the final East wild card. These aren't the hilarious, 'fans throwing jerseys on the ice' Leafs of last season though, as Mike Babcock has the team playing a much tighter system that has helped them improve both analytically overall, as well as go on a nice little run with five wins in their last seven games.
Ducks: Sunday, January 3 vs Winnipeg (4-1 W) "Best & Worst: Flying High Post Holidays"
Maple Leafs: Saturday, January 2 vs St. Louis (4-1 W) "Leafs 4 Blues 1 - Leafs Look Good"
The fine form of goalie John Gibson since recall from San Diego was recognized by the league, naming him the Rookie of the Month for December, wherein he posted a 5-3-1 mark with a .929 save percentage and three shutouts in ten appearances. His 180:34 stretch of scoreless play in wins over Philadelphia, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg is the third longest in Anaheim franchise history, and the third longest by a rookie since 1989-90. Gibson has appeared in all but two of Anaheim's 17 games since his initial call up on November 24.
Though being given a league-low 100 power play opportunities and a league worst -63:22 power play to shorthanded time differential, the Ducks have rocketed up to tenth on the power play to go with their NHL best penalty kill. Anaheim has scored power play goals in four of their last five games, and since the December 17 game at Buffalo following five whole days off the Ducks have converted on six of 19 attempts over the nine games. Corey Perry has been the top producer with the extra man, but Ryan Kesler has scored three of his six goals for the year on the power play. 12 different Ducks have scored power play goals, and 20 of the team's 72 goals have been on the advantage, responsible for 27.8% of total output. Only Buffalo and New Jersey (28.6%) have a higher percentage of their goals from the power play, while tonight's opponent has 23.2% of their goals with the extra man.
Though Toronto actually had six more points through the first 37 games of last season (20-14-3 vs 15-15-7 this year), the underlying shot metrics tell the story of a team with vastly improved systems play. Call it the Babcock Effect: Through 37 games last year at even strength the Leafs were third worst with a 44.8 shot attempt percentage, second worst at 43.6% of scoring chances, and fifth worst at 43.8% of high danger chances. This season at five-on-five Toronto has controlled 50.3% of shot attempts, 51.6% of scoring chances (tied for eighth best), and 54.2% (fourth best) of high danger chances.
Of the 12 players that suited up with the team both this season and last, 10 have posted better shot attempt percentages this season with James van Riemsdyk's 11.03, former Duck Peter Holland's 7.25, Leo Komarov's 6.14, and Tyler Bozak's 5.15 amongst the most eye-catching jumps this season minus last. the Morgan Rielly and former Duck Daniel Winnik are the lone players to see their SAT% numbers drop this year over last; for Rielly it's a combination of increased ice time (an average of over 1:40 more) and tougher relative zone starts, while Winnik has seen his relatives zone starts move from -1.83 last year to -19.11 - basically, Winnik doesn't hit the ice unless it's a defensive zone draw.
Also of note from PPP's game story (which, like essentially the entire site is well worth the read- Puck Daddy named them blog of the year for a reason) is Nazem Kadri having put up 11 points in his last 11 games, flourishing getting top minutes and now fourth on the team in scoring. Michael Grabner has eight points in his last eight outings, with four of those coming in Toronto's toasting of Los Angeles. the Jonathan Bernier will make his eighth straight start in goal, and since returning from an AHL stint has gone 5-2-2 with a .903 save percentage, but has back-to-back 39 save wins over Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
Two hours before face off we'll have the game thread up, featuring the full Stat Pack, likely with expected lines, and of course your Numbers For Nerds.