That’s because the San Jose Sharks, who also have only three games left on the schedule, can still move up in the standings.
Add in the fact that the Oilers have a game in hand on Anaheim, and the picture gets even murkier.
Yesterday, we got into what a first round matchup against Calgary or Edmonton would look like.
Based on some statistics that we know do a good job of influencing playoff outcomes, Anaheim came away looking like a slight favorite in both series.
San Jose’s a trickier team to get a handle on — while their underlying numbers have been generally among the league’s best this season, they’ve also struggled massively down the stretch.
The Statistical Breakdown
For comparison’s sake, let’s see how both teams stack up from a numbers standpoint (All data: Corsica.hockey, Hockeystats.ca):
Ducks vs. Sharks 2016-17
|49.76%||Corsi For % (5v5)||51.14%|
|52.29%||Goals For % (5v5)||52.88%|
|53.6%||Chances For % (5v5)||51.78%|
Outside of pure shot-attempt differential, the Ducks actually grade out pretty nicely against the Sharks. Assuming John Gibson starts in this hypothetical series, Anaheim would have a fairly substantial advantage in net.
The 23-year old Gibson has had a stellar season, posting a .921 save percentage, while Martin Jones has had a bit of a down year with a .913 mark. We know Jones can be better than that, but it’s still a considerable gap.
A closer look at the regular season series paints a far less rosy picture for Anaheim. The Sharks have largely dictated play in five games, controlling 52.54% of the shot attempts at even strength.
An important caveat to note: the Ducks have absolutely “turtled” in some of these games, sitting back on leads like a mother hen sits on her precious eggs. If we only look at the first period in these games, where the score tends to be tied, we find Anaheim controlling 56.17% of even strength shot attempts.
The “Jumbo” Factor
Joe Thornton had to leave Sunday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks with an apparent knee injury. The optics weren’t inspiring at all — Thornton couldn’t put any weight on his left leg — even losing his footing as he made his way down the tunnel.
Thornton’s been excellent against Anaheim this year. San Jose controlled 53.69% of even strength shot attempts with the 20-year veteran on the ice against Anaheim. Even though he’s struggled by his own standards offensively, it’d be ludicrous to think that the Sharks are the same team without him.
Ultimately, the line for a Ducks-Sharks series would probably have Anaheim as underdogs.
It’s impossible to discount that San Jose would control play at even strength, an advantage that could be further cemented if Jones is on his game. Gibson would have to show zero rust, while the Ducks’ top guns would have to come up big.
Should Thornton miss any games, however, we’re looking at a much different series. Anaheim is already within striking distance as things currently stand, but in that case, they might even be slight favorites.