Time: Sunday, October 15th, 1800hrs PST
TV: PRIME, MSG-B
The Unfortunate Other Lot: Die by the Blade
2-2-1 and, as is their god damned right, with a firm grasp on a playoff spot. That’s how this injured Ducks team is rolling into game 6 against the Sabres.
Sure they're one of the luckier teams in the competition with a 101.3% PDO, but for a team thats this beat up, their current standing position is pretty good going. Getzlaf, Kesler, Lindholm, Vatanen, are all on the shelf. Gibson is touch and go, after his back* gave out from carrying the team during some out of town training exercise thing... I don't know, I didn't watch it (*upper body injury reported. Not necessarily a back injury. Could have been shoulder strain from patting himself on the back). By my count that’s the team’s 4 best players and Kesler all sitting on the pine. And the Ducks are still in playoff contention. Hot diggity that’s something. The injury crisis permeates even into the bottom 6. This has allowed Coach Carlyle to learn a few things about his roster, and ask a few questions. The obvious one is why Andrew Cogliano is pacing the team in scoring (2-4-6). He’s already racking up 17% of last years points totals in only 5 games. Carlyle must be asking why he doesnt have any top 6 players to do the heavy lifting, although surely he and everybody, should be rapt that Cogliano is back to his former 20 goal pace. Cogliano’s line mate Jakob Silfverberg has had his scoring dry up, but not for want of chances. Unshackled from the more dour Kesler, Silf’s scoring chances and those from dangerous areas have jumped by 3% and 5% respectively. Cogliano too has seen his number of high-danger chances increase by 3%. The straw mixing the drink, Rickard Rakell, has been trialed at pivot with mixed results. His chances from the slot have increased by near 10%, despite unblocked shots and regular old scoring chances cratering. The change has slightly increased his scoring rates from last season, which can only be a boon going forward if sustained. This is a hell of a line, and they should play together and do hockey stuff together. It’s the most fun Ducks thing going right now and worth the price of admission. All around nice guy, Corey Perry, has seen a slight drop in overall scoring due to a lack of players to pass to. Yet his goal scoring is back on pace for a 33 goal season. Something we can all agree is awesome-sauce. Yeah the Ducks are 3rd last for goal scoring and bottom third for stopping them. Yeah, they're one of 4 teams yet to score a power play goal (although with Derek Grant on the up and up it’s a matter of time). But you know what, they’re in the playoffs and they are not Buffalo. So there’s always that to hang their collective hats on.
Speaking of Buffalo, last season the Sabres were one of the easy beats of the competition: 25th in goal scoring, 20th in goals against, 29th in Corsi-For %, and with a 25th rated penalty kill. Like many struggling teams, the offseason brought great change to Buffalo. It all began with their budding young superstar throwing the baby out with the bath water. Naturally it was denied that he would have a say in these matters, which resulted in a raft of new changes. But where there is smoke there’s fire. Nonetheless change is the precursor for optimism and first cab off the ranks was Jay Botterill becoming the new (assistant to Jack Eichel, probably? maybe?) GM. Randy Sexton, followed him from the Penguins, to be the assistant GM (assistant to Eichel’s assist?), to solidify the boys club mentality that every hockey organisation needs to have. Then came the start of the “everything that’s old is new again” trend. Phil Housely, who had previously served as the Predator’s assistant coach in charge of their all-world defensive corp and after obviously an amazing career as a Sabre, became the new head coach. Then old-man Jason Pominville brought his expensive contract and NTC/NMC back to Buffalo to hang out with his buddy Matt Mouslon. Because nothing spells rebuild like spending 10.5 million dollars on two old has beens, when one of your best players at the peak of his powers (Evander Kane, for those wondering at home) is a pending UFA.
And there it was. The stage was set. Less than two weeks ago, Jack Eichel signed the richest deal in Buffalo Sabres history. The man who has been scoring at near point per game pace (.934 ppg) over the past two years, despite a seemingly low shooting percentage (10.1% and 9.6% for the past two seasons, respectively). The man who is second in the league for controlled zone entries and 3rd in generating scoring chances (behind McDavid and Kane), who drives the Sabres scoring up from a measly 1.86 to 2.62 every damn time he steps on the ice.
As you can imagine, the fandom in Buffalo was ecstatic with the signing. Here is a sample of the lovefest from diebytheblade:
and naturally a comparison to his highness...
Yes, as you can see Buffalo fans are frothing up like a washing machine on spin cycle, over this extension. Who can say they're wrong to be this excited? It’s not like there’s anyone better for that kind of money right?
Aside from an the owner scratching for money: How has the new GM, new assistant GM, new coach, new-old players, and the certainty that their star is staying relatively forever due to his new contract, impacted on the Buffalo Sabres this year so far?
3-2 OTL vs Mon
6-3 L vs NYI
6-2 L vs NJD
3-2 L vs SJS
Now they're on the second night of a back to back (4-2 L vs LAK), in which they were pumped for near 30 hits, which one would imagine would soften them right up. Ripe for the pickings.
So in short...
All Eyes on Me:
The man who should have been a Duck. After years of doing all them pushups, Evander Kane has been one of many forwards this season to start with a bang. 2 shorthanded goals, 2 assists and 19 shots on goal, go along with 2 hits and 2 blocks in ~19.5 minutes a night were his contributions in the first 2 games. He’s followed that up with another 2 goal outing for a 4G-3A-7P season, to go with 30 shots on net. When a man is in this kind of form, it’s a good idea to stay well away from him and give him nothing to work with. Unfortunately, the Ducks are seemingly incapable of staying out of the box, which means they will see a lot of Kane on the power play to go with whatever penalty kill time they somehow manage to luck into, as well as the usual even strength schtick. With the inability to decline power play opportunities - don't lie you wish they could too - the Ducks will have to be on their guard against turning the puck over and allowing Kane to use his speed to get past the slower players on the roster (cough Bieksa/Beauchemin/Holzer cough) and in on the tender all alone. As one of the very few Buffalo Sabres worth the price of admission, Kane should definitely be on your radar.
Keys to the Game:
Last season, the Ducks pounded the Sabres for 20.5 hits which subsequently creating 13.5 giveaways per game. This slightly less physical approach (comparative to their norm) reduced the shorthanded time played (by almost 1 minor per game), allowing them to shoot the lights out to the tune of 42-to-28.5 shots on net. A full 11 shots, and 0.5 goals scored, in addition to what the Ducks produced versus other teams in the bottom third of the standings. As one would expect, the Ducks shot more pucks at the net versus lower standings teams than any other, last season, and the trend has continued this season. They also were one of the winningest teams on home ice, and absolutely dominated, winning 73.3% of their home games versus teams in the bottom third of the standings. Likely in part due to less penalties being called against the home teams - yep even the Ducks.
If the Ducks can avoid playing down to their competition in this classic trap game, continue to pepper the net, and play to the home ice advantage, they stand a good chance of picking up the points. If that fails, throwing a couple dollars bills to the other bench will probably help.
In this edition of “That’s so Ducks,” the team thats giving up over 4 goals a game, on the road, will somehow shutout the ducks and hang 5 on them. They’ll do this while being outshot by triple and spending nearly 20 minutes short-handed.