With the end in sight for the seven-games-in-11-days, longest road trip of the season for the Anaheim Ducks, the penultimate stop was the second leg of an Alberta back-to-back against the Edmonton Oilers. While the game had several moments of wackiness, the Ducks were able to gut out their 16th win in their 20th trip to Rexall Place since the 2006 Western Conference Final. Presenting the Best and Worst of the Ducks at the Oilers:
Best: Too SWEEEEEEEEDE
Hey yo, it's survey time- How many people tuned in to see Connor McDavid? And how many people tuned in to see Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, and Jakob Silfverberg?
Anaheim's continuing trend of getting scoring from all over the lineup continued, with ten different players having a hand in the five goals, and all three of the Swedes figuring prominently. Rakell's ascension has been well documented, currently sitting a point back of matching his current career-high of 31 set last year, and the evolution of Lindholm into a more serious goal scoring threat has been fun to watch as well. His give-and-go net front deflection with Rakell early in the third was Lindholm's new career-high eighth of the year, and fifth in nine games in the month of February. Silfverberg seems to be coming on of late too, with points in three of the past four and 14 points in the last 17 games while playing 'shutdown line' minutes.
Keep Rakell and Lindholm in Anaheim 4Life. It's just...
Worst: Delay Day
The nine minute review in the first period of David Perron's power play goal after being shoved into Cam Talbot by Oiler defenseman Brandon Davidson, first the league checking if it was a kick, then the subsequent challenge by Edmonton coach Todd McLellan, was the stuff of nightmares when it comes to the review process. The NFL thought that took a long time to come to a conclusion. There could've been a new Supreme Court justice appointed and approved (hahahaha) during it.
Even worse was the stretch in the second period where the clock stopped working correctly for whatever reason. It was a herky-jerky game, with the extended stoppages and the eight penalties between the two teams, never really allowing things to get into a consistent rhythm. Perhaps that played to the Ducks' advantage, as it hardly allowed the Oilers to establish their speed, but it didn't make for a fluid viewing experience.
Best: Winning Time
While struggles in the second period have been a consistent storyline for the team the last couple seasons, Anaheim has also been one of the league's best in the third period. For the whole campaign in the third the Ducks have a +10 goal differential (fourth best in the league), at even strength a 52.8 shot attempts percentage (sixth) , 52.8 scoring chance percentage (fifth), and 52.5 high danger chance percentage. Even more impressive is since Christmas they've posted a +10 goal differential (second), 55.0 ES SAT% (fourth), 54.4 ES SCF% (seventh), and 56.7 ES HDC% (fourth) in the final frame.
For a team that's already in the top ten in all three of the analytic categories for the life of the season (SAT% fourth, SCF% seventh, HDC% ninth), to see how the numbers go up in the last twenty of regulation speaks to the ways that this team has figured out how to close games out. There've been far fewer instances of the outright turtle defensive posture this year versus seasons past, and it's contributed in a major way to the run of results since late December. This is a much more sustainable way to consistently be chalking up wins, without necessarily relying on the dramatics.
Worst: About Those Goals Against Though
First and foremost, Frederik Andersen did not have a bad game in net last night. Matter of fact, if you take away the late power play goal credited to Benoit Pouliot that was a fluky header own goal off the dome of Cam Fowler, Andersen would've had a snazzy .923 save percentage for the game. He made several key stops and had a moment of fortune with McDavid's stick blowing up on a third period one-timer attempt, but continued his stretch of 11 straight decisions backstopping the Ducks to at least a point (9-0-2, .927 SV%) since the turn of 2016.
Yet, it's understandable that certain segments of the fan base may have concerns about his play cooling after giving up seven goals over the last two games. The second period goals by Leon Draisaitl, beating him cleanly from the left wing on the power play, and Taylor Hall, getting to the net front of knock home the rebound of a Jordan Eberle shot that Andersen lost track of, seemed to be the kind of pucks Andersen would normally handle. It's worth noting that it was the second half of a back-to-back, and even with 29 hours between the scheduled start times that's a an ask for most goalies.
Best: Biggest Roadie Of The Year, Not Slippin'
While it started with a stumble in Pittsburgh, the Ducks have rebounded to go 4-1-1 through the first six of the seven. There are points of concern, like a penalty kill that's all of a sudden allowed power play goals on seven of 22 infractions over the trip and four in the past two games. However with the power play converting on 6 of 18 chances, the special teams issues have been relatively balanced out, and save for a pair of truly poor performances against Pittsburgh and Columbus, the play has been nowhere near the nadir that the beginning of the season was.
It's said that one can tell when a team that's been riding a hot run of play may be set to fall into a losing spell when they start winning games where they probably should've lost. The performances in consecutive games against Calgary and Edmonton where certainly nowhere near the kind Anaheim had against Chicago, but the end result from all three was the same. There are certainly things head coach Bruce Boudreau and staff will be taking a look at during the four off days in the next five after the conclusion of this road trip, but it's a hallmark of a good team to be able to win multiple different kinds of games. The Ducks have done that on this seven game, four time zone-spanning jaunt.
3) Andrew Cogliano
While Silfverberg had the goal, fellow third line wing Andrew Cogliano had one of the most solid all-around nights from the Anaheim forward corps. Yes, the fact that he scored the game winner on an empty net while shorthanded was hilarious, but he also drew a penalty and finished with the best shot-attempt differential amongst forwards. +8 at even strength, and just a -1 in seeing 2:24 of shorthanded ice time. The line as a whole had a tremendous evening, which gets to...
2) Ryan Kesler
It was fun watching the cat-and-mouse game the Oilers tried to play with McDavid and keeping him away from Ryan Kesler, but Anaheim was able to get him out there for 7:10 of the wunderkid's 13:19 of even strength ice time and won the matchup decisively. Kesler was able to generate three more shot attempts in the head-to-head matchup at even strength, and had the better for balance of shot attempts against all but three of the Edmonton forwards. His forecheck helped create the turnover that Silfverberg cashed in as well, giving him a helper in three straight, and points in 13 of the last 17.
1) Hampus Lindholm
Lindholm ended up with the third most ice time amongst defensemen (19:56) and was nearly even in his special teams TOI split with 2:28 on the power play and 2:19 shorthanded. While he and partner Josh Manson had an uncharacteristic minus performance in five-on-five shot attempts (-4, the duo of Simon Despres' +10 and Sami Vatanen's +9 carried the day), his recent incorporation of a more attacking offensive mentality has been a great wrinkle added to his game. While it didn't end up being the game winner, his goal partnering up with roomie Rakell early in the third helped Anaheim set the tone and take the points. Now, where's the money for the two of them?