The tin-foil hat wearing fans out there would say the putrid performance by the Anaheim Ducks was merely their choosing to face the San Jose Sharks in the first round. The non-tinfoil hat wearing fans would say that game was not good but injuries hampered the team. The statistically-inclined fans would take one look at the deeper numbers of last night's game and then start either wildly sobbing or go fetch a stiff drink (or both).
How bad was that game last night? Lots of adjectives. For a team whose captain said after the final horn that they went in expecting a playoff game, the Ducks laid a stinking rotten egg against their crosstown rival Los Angeles Kings that one can only hope is nothing like the kind of effort the fans hope the team puts forward when the actual playoffs begin. Do not be fooled, the one-goal scoreline makes this game seem far closer than it actually was.
Injuries were a definite factor for this team, as they entered this game still short six roster players, and the absences of key cogs like David Perron, Rickard Rakell, and Sami Vatanen were felt throughout this game, particularly with their possession-driving abilities. But that being said a playoff-bound team should never be as soundly beaten by a fellow playoff team, regardless of who they put on the ice. The players who go out there should have the ability to at least put up a fight, and Anaheim's effort in that regard showed hardly any such thing.
Worst: You Need the Puck to Win Hockey Games
Anaheim earned 34.2% of possession at even strength, or in other words, the Kings put nearly two shot attempts towards the Ducks goal for every one attempt the Ducks put back the other direction when the two teams played five-on-five hockey.
Amazingly, that mark is not the lowest on the season for the Ducks, who earned only 32.7% of the attempts in their last meeting with the Arizona Coyotes, a laugher 5-1 win where the Coyotes just tried to play catchup the entire game. In terms of matchups with their rivals to the north, this was the worst possession beatdown the Kings have put on Anaheim since May 10th, 2014, a game Anaheim miraculously won 2-0 despite posting a 27.2% possession mark.
The first period was poor, getting out-attempted 15-7, and the second period was even worse with the Ducks on the wrong side of an 18-4 attempt advantage for Los Angeles. That's worse than a four-to-one difference! Both LA goals went in within the first five minutes of the frame, and four more probably could have gone in before it was over!
Full credit to LA's neutral zone dominance for this next point, but the scoring chances tell the story even more. LA held a chance advantage by a 22-17 total by game's end, but as for the high danger chances, LA cleaned house with an 11-4 advantage. Ryan Kesler scored the Ducks lone tally on one of them, and as for the other three... the Ducks missed the net with each of them. Not even a save required from Jonathan Quick.
All of that boiled down to a game where Anaheim was outshot 31-20 and didn't register that 20th shot on goal until the 19:47 mark of the 3rd period, or when the game had a mere 13 seconds left.
Is team possession important? You tell me.
Best: Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm are Silly Good.
Anaheim had only two positive possession defensemen in this contest: Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm. Manson in particular stood out like a shining diamond in a sea of garbage, posting a spectacular 57.1% shot attempt percentage, and did so in 19:58 of even-strength ice time. And to make matters even more difficult, Manson started only 42.8% of his shifts in Los Angeles ice. What does that mean? Josh Manson took LA possession and territorial advantage, halted it, and turned it into possession and territory for Anaheim.
His partner, Hampus Lindholm, played a stout 21:29 at even strength, leading the entire Ducks team, and finished with a 52.2% shot-attempt percentage. In fact it was the roughly two minutes of ice time that Lindholm had alongside Cam Fowler that drove his number so much lower than Manson's.
Anyone who's paid anything more than casual attention to the Ducks this season knows how incredible this pairing is in terms of its ability to keep control and drive offense when on the ice. Is there any valid argument anywhere that says this defense pair isn't the best one Anaheim has? There shouldn't be.
Best: That Trade Wasn't Bad
The only other Ducks player with a positive shot-attempt differential? Forward Ryan Garbutt finished with a 57.9% share of the shot-attempts he was on the ice for.
His linemates didn't fare all that terribly either, with Nate Thompson finishing dead even at 50% and Chris Wagner falling one attempt under even to finish at 47.1% (six for, seven against).
It really felt like the fourth line was the only line who got anything done in terms of establishing a forecheck and forcing the Kings D to cough up some pucks, and Garbutt's attempt numbers attest to that.
Worst: How Bad was the Cam Fowler/Korbinian Holzer Pair?
TL;DR version: really bad.
Fowler admitted post-game to the media that he lost track of his man which led directly to Kris Versteeg's game-winner just 2:01 into the 2nd period. He absolutely did, and it's nice to see a player accepting fault for an obvious mistake.
But let's dig a little deeper into this pair. With Vatanen out of the lineup, Fowler played most of the game alongside Korbinian Holzer, finishing with 18:49 of time at even strength. Fowler also got the added benefit of starting 52.6% of his 5-on-5 shifts in the Los Angeles zone, the most-favorable zone-start percentage of the entire Anaheim defense.
Yet, Cam Fowler finished this contest with a team-worst -19 shot attempt differential, and a 19.4% shot-attempt percentage. I wish I was making that up.
Holzer, his partner, was no better with a team-worst 13.0% shot-attempt percentage at even strength, despite a slightly-better -17 differential. (Chris Stewart was the only one close to this at 13.3%, as his line was downright useless offensively, managing just two five-on-five shot attempts the entire contest.) Holzer has a little bit more leeway, as he was forced to start two out of every three shifts in his own zone, but that being said the Kings absolutely ravaged this pairing which saw a lot of minutes in particular against the dangerous Tofolli-Carter-Brown line. All three of those players finished over 70% at five-on-five.
Bruce Boudreau even tried to rectify the Fowler problem on a few occasions by shuffling him to play with Simon Despres, but that led to a pairing of Clayton Stoner alongside Holzer, and they were promptly pinned into their own zone for an extended period of time, forcing that gamble to be abandoned. It was a complete catch-22 that Bruce Boudreau understandably had no reasonable answer for.
Now, understand Holzer is the seventh defenseman on this team, and he is played as such. In fact, Holzer is actually a slightly-positive possession player this season despite limited minutes, making this more of an anomaly than an outstanding issue. Cam Fowler, on the other hand, is played in top-pairing minutes and has consistently posted dreadful performances in which he was the single biggest inhibiting factor on possession support from the back end.
It's come to the point where Fowler has become even more of a possession black-hole and defensive liability than even Kevin Bieksa was to begin the season, and without the likes of Sami Vatanen or Shea Theodore in the lineup to give the coaching staff some shuffling freedom, his abysmal play pinned the entire defense into a bind that sent the team to a crashing halt offensively.
And it's been this way for much of the season as well. Fowler is Anaheim's worst player (not just defenseman) among those who have played more than 50 games in five-on-five shot-attempt percentage (48.7%), scoring chance differential (-59), scoring chance percentage (46.9%), high-danger scoring chance differential (-51), high-danger scoring chance percentage (43.8%), and plus-minus (-8). I mean I'm no expert, but it seems this young talent billed as a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman with an increasingly ugly-looking $4 million cap hit has done hardly any moving of the puck out of his zone or even played any stable defense this season at all.
It's not so much the loss that's worrisome, but the nature by which it came. If this team can't respond to the adversity of the injuries it has sustained recently, much like they showed tonight, playoff Ducks are destined to nothing more than a short, listless playoff series against San Jose which ends with handshakes and sheer disbelief that a brief Stanley Cup window will slam shut with nothing more than a whimper of an effort when adversity reared its head late in the season.
And that's going to make it suck even harder when Cam Fowler is the one who's still in Anaheim next season while another young defenseman gets shipped out because budget team.
If there was any time for this team to give adversity the Los Angeles Driving Finger and find a way to go out and win in spite of it all, much like they've done in the past three seasons, that time is now. And it doesn't matter who is in the lineup and asked to go out and do so. This team has survived absences like this in the past and will need to find a way to do so again.
Where for art thou, Sami Vatanen and Rickard Rakell?