Opening a five-game Canadian road trip, the Anaheim Ducks began by visiting a familiar foe, who they opened last year's first round with in the Winnipeg Jets.
Though the hosts are clearly out of the playoff race for this season, the Ducks were forced to come from behind to secure a critical two points in the Western Conference playoff race. Presenting the Best and Worst of the Ducks at the Jets:
Best: Silfver Touch Stays With It
What better time for Jakob Silfverberg to score his first overtime winning goal of the season than when he could claim his second game-winning goal since stashing the winner against Los Angeles on March 5. Silfverberg has scored six points in his last four games, four goals and two assists since notching his first career NHL hat trick. The play itself was a brilliant bit of work at the blue line from Ryan Kesler, whose touch pass sprung Silfverberg for the lone break-in, as well as the chance to finish his rebound after Michael Hutchinson made the initial pad save.
Silfverberg has put up eight points over the last eight games, and via a feature by Eric Stephens in the Orange County Register wants to be viewed as more than a defensive force for the Ducks. While ten points back of his career high with 29 points through 71 games, he likely won't command much special attention come playoff time. Yet, if Silfverberg can keep contributing, as he has in 14 of his past 32 games, it'll help bolster a shut down line that could prove vital to the Ducks playoff chances.
Worst: Gibson Helps D Survive Soft Game
It had been brought up in the lead up to this game that John Gibson had a significantly lower save percentage (.910 vs .935) than Frederik Andersen since the All Star Break. Gibson continued to fight that trend that, if removing the game in Pittsburgh, is the fairest representation of him between the pipes by stopping 27 of 29 Winnipeg shots, and posting a .931 save percentage while his number (minus the Pittsburgh game) since the All Star Break has been a .924 SV%. To his credit, he's faced fewer shots against per 60 minutes of five-on-five hockey than Andersen has this season at 25.62 vs 28.48 shots.
Anaheim's defense did well to allow the Jets just one high percentage chance for the game at five-on-five, Paul Postma's rebound shot that he hit home in the first period. Yet after that the Ducks were able to generate a even-strength scoring chance differential of 20-17, and a high danger chance gradient of 7-4 for the game at evens. Gibson may have allowed the only ES high danger chance he faced to dent the back of the net, but it's a testament to the Ducks defense that they only allowed one of the four chances in the high danger at even strength for the game area to reach Gibson.
Best: Anaheim Wins Special Teams Battle
The Ducks are again comfortably the best penalty killing unit in the league at an 87.3% success rate, and have killed off 20-straight power plays against in the last seven games without allowing an odd-man tally against. Yet, after a two-game empty spell, Anaheim converted on one of their two power play opportunities. It reminds of the 'Bowman' stat that has been spoken of in previous editions of 'Anaheim Calling: The Podcast'- adding together both the penalty killing success rate, as well as the power play success rate. If a team is above 100%, they're in good shape. Anaheim currently sits at 110.7 (having the NHL's best power play at 23.4%), Scotty Bowman would approve.
Worst: Soft Opening Start, Perron Injured
It said something when Winnipeg's third defense pair was able to open the game's opening goal, with Postma jumping on his own rebound after both the Ducks' second line and the second defense pair left him all alone to follow his shot off the rebound and snap it home. It's another thing entirely when that crashing player from the point is allowed a clear path to the net to follow his own shot. Brandon Pirri got caught out of position on the play by sliding out of the picture in attempt to block the initial shot, but coming up empty. It's the kind of mistake that's forgivable in the regular season, but something that will draw extra scrutiny going into the playoffs.
Though the Ducks were only out-attempted by an 16-13 margin at five-on-five, which translated into a 14-11 shots on goal differential for the opening twenty minutes, the quality of shots made a difference. While half of each team's shot attempts for the period were scoring chances, Anaheim held the 20-minute advantage of five high danger chances vs three for the Jets, and converted Jamie McGinn deflecting home Kevin Bieksa's shot from the point for his third tally in three games. The loss of David Perron, after just 5:07 played following a hard collision into the endboards, made the period a net negative considering losing Perron for an extended period would greatly reduce the Ducks flexibility at the top with previous injuries in mind. They're still waiting on the recovery of Chris Stewart, who had previously been filling a top line right wing role.
Best: Two Points To Stay Ahead
Sure, the San Jose Sharks may be one of the best NHL teams on the road. But, of their 15 losses at home this season, one has been at the hands of the Ducks, and Anaheim has earned the two points from both of their home meetings with their Northern California rivals. Anaheim is one of three teams (Nashville, and the Islanders being the others) that can claim a winning record against the Teal Fish this season.
While Los Angeles continues to hold an even four-point advantage over the Ducks at the top of the Pacific Division, having won five more games in regulation or overtime (the first tie breaker if the teams finished tied in points at the end of the regular season), Anaheim's success is important to stay ahead of San Jose for second place in the division. The second slot means that Anaheim would host the opening round playoff series, and the Ducks have won both of the meetings against the Sharks at Honda Center. San Jose may be 25-10-3 away from the HP Pavillion, but two of those losses have come at the hands of the Ducks, in their only two road meetings this season. The Ducks are a point ahead having played one fewer game as this article is published.
3) Jamie McGinn
Hard to complain about scoring in three straight games, especially when his expected role upon acquisition was to be a forward in the vein of Patrick Maroon. He's been better in his opportunities as both a second line, first line, as well as power play option, especially over the last three games.
2) Ryan Kesler
Make it a goal and assists for the Kes Boss, while finishing as the best player on the club in even strength shot attempt differential at +6 for the game. He won his match-ups against three of the four Winnipeg lines in terms of generating shot attempts at five-on-five, which is all you can expect from a third line center. The goal, with subsequent delicious celebration that surely invoked nightmares from the Manitobans, as well as finding Sifverberg all alone behind the defense with enough time for both an initial clear chance and a free rebound to win it was absolute brilliance.
1) John Gibson
We gave props to Andersen for his performance last time out, and while Gibson wasn't called upon to make as many saves from directly in the slot, he had enough denials with the Ducks defense keeping things to the perimeter to earn the two points. Tuesday in Montreal should be fun.