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Ducks @ Blues PREVIEW: Winning Their First Back-to-Back Would Strike the Right Notes

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The Ducks look to bounce back tonight, grow their win column, and create some space with the rest of the Pacific Division

St Louis Blues v Anaheim Ducks
Gibson so calm he’s laying around on the job
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Game 6

Date: Sunday, October 14th, 2018

Time: 1600 PT / 1900 ET

Location: Scottrade Arena

TV: PRIME

Radio: AM830

Them who art thy enemy: St Louis Blues


Tonight the Ducks play the Blues. Ironic since they were playing a sad case of the blues at the end of last nights game. The Ducks come into this match up after playing the Stars last night, in what was more or less 3 games in 1. Period 1, in which the Ducks played their patented perfect game of being out-shot, out-chanced, and out-played, and yet still scoring opportunistic goals to take the lead. A couple of the kids went all Voltron, and combined to give the Ducks an early 3 goal lead. Period 2, in which the Stars copied their morning skate. That 3 goal lead the Ducks had disappeared in the space of 3 minutes. Period 3, in which neither team looked like they wanted to be out there - perhaps an untold mercy rule as the Stars may have felt guilty about potentially hanging a league record of shots on the Ducks, and breaking the spirit of their only player. For the record, the shots record was not matched.

The Blues come into this game after playing a comparatively much closer game against Chicago. They took that game into overtime, before Alex DeBrincat ended their night. Interestingly, both teams had 50 shots or more hung on them last night, as they presumably choose to play... faster... um... better.... hockey. On that note, it can be said that both teams limp into this game off the back of losses they’d rather have not taken, and from games that will likely hold a great many learning experiences.

Leading into last night’s game against Dallas, the Ducks star net-minder and apple of my eye, John Gibson, was already well on his way to being snubbed in this season’s Vezina trophy voting. As the chart below so pointedly shows, Gibson has thus far been overwhelmingly the strongest net-minder of the season. In short, Gibson has already provided a league-leading save percentage (at even strength) and prevented more than 6 goals over what a league average net-minder would have. League average. Despite this show of net-minder might, there can be little doubt that [some guy] is the league’s front runner in the trophy stakes.

Last night, at least for 40 minutes, Gibson showed us why he is considered an elite net-minder. Physically exhausted at the end of the Stars 20 minute long, second period, power play, he was mercifully given the gate, allowing the elder statesman Ryan Miller to endure the barrage.

What bearing does this have on tonight’s game? A game in which Gibson may very likely not play, given the back-up net-minder typically starts in one of the games in a back-to-back. It’s hard to say. Miller did come into the game for the last period last night, and it would still make sense for him to play again tonight. Yet Randy Carlyle is a master tactician, and he may have planned for the Blues to plan on that scenario, thus he may make the aberrant decision to play Gibson once again. Nonetheless, we should assume that Miller will play until information suggesting otherwise is brought to light.

Why this matters, is thus. The Ducks are in the formative stages of rebranding their style of play. Aspiring to create a point of difference to last season’s 6th worst corsi against, 4th worst rating for scoring chances against, and 7th worst rate of high danger chances against, this season’s Ducks are striving to play a “faster” style of hockey. For those interested, a small piece was written about one of the features of the defensive system employed by coach Carlyle’s team last decade season, and can be found here. I would ask you to refer to the screen shots there, rather than me re-posting them here (for the sake of space and brevity).

Moments before a power play goal against (vs Wings).

Notice the similarity between the set up here and those of the last decade season. In this screen capture there are 4 open Red Wing players, and the puck handler who is able to skate in with no defensive pressure. Montour is the defenseman most likely to be able to apply defensive pressure (although it would be late regardless), yet his stick in the air prevents him from stopping a centering pass, increases the chances of a high sticking call, and in this instance helps to screen his own net-minder. While in theory the Ducks players are close enough to being in the right position, in actuality it’s almost impressive that none of the Detroit players are covered, and that the zone defense has opened up shooting and passing lanes, rather than closed them down. The Wings have more options than they know what to do with here, and the snipe is buried. Similar setups are still being used at even strength, although thus far goals against have largely been due to the opposition getting in behind the Anaheim defense, rather than threading passes to open men.

All of that is to say, the Ducks “new” style of play, is eerily similar to last season’s style of play. It’s not really new, and its not really faster, but like slurm original was just regular old slurm, the trick is in the rebranding. If you say words often enough, and people want to believe them, they will swallow any sales pitch hook line and sinker. This season, a league 5th worst corsi against, 3rd worst scoring chances against, and 7th worst high danger chances against, suggests that the Ducks adapted much “faster” at playing to the team’s strength of generously allowing Gibson to carry the bulk entirety of the defensive workload.

The type of set up seen in the above screen capture could be particularly dangerous against the Blues, given the threatening nature of their line-up. Any team with Vladimir Tarasenko is going to be threatening, yet the Blues have iced 8 different forward groupings on the power play this season (all with over 1 minute of ice time) and only 3 of them have showcased Tarasenko. As the chart below shows, all of these special teams units have been dangerous. Thought it should be noted, that the Ducks did play the PK quite well in last nights game. The Radulov goal was a nice one, and came off a screened net-minder, yet the 3 minutes of PK time prior to that was rock solid.

Shots and expected goal rates on the power play
@ChartingHockey

The question, therefore, is can Ryan Miller repeat his .928 save percentage from last season? His 16.8 goals-saved-above-average was the 4th best mark in the league last year, and was in fact better than John Gibson’s, 14.26 (ranked 5th overall). Is the 38-year old able to replicate that success, or even exceed it, with the Ducks’ “new” “faster” system of play? Over a season it’s certainly possible that his veteran moxie could make this happen. But in his very first full game of the season, with the team on tired legs from last night’s game, and against a team that is strong in the areas the Ducks are weak, the question is still open to debate.

That is however, all about keeping the goals out. Offensively, the Ducks are sitting relatively pretty. They place in the top third of the league with a world class shooting percentage (11th overall at all strengths, and 10th overall at even strength), with many of their players still to hit the score sheet with meaning. Last night alone, they were lethal on the PP, with the Stars only able to escape a single penalty kill successfully.

Ducks actual goal scoring versus their expected goal scoring. Data true prior to last night’s game against Dallas.
https://public.tableau.com/profile/sean.tierney#!/

The chart above may give a little room for optimism. While regression, in the sporting sense, is oft spoken about in terms of overachieving players, it also works for underachieving players. That is to say, while it is extremely likely that Comtois will regress back towards the mean, it is equally likely that players such as Adam Henrique will regress forward towards the mean as well. The Ducks currently have more players underachieving than those who are overachieving. Which leads us to the St Louis Blues’ Achilles’ heel.

Their defense.

It seems a little odd to be panicking this early in the season about a defensive corp that boasts Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester, yet here we are. Perhaps this current environment is something the Ducks’- currently under-performing- forwards can exploit. Pietrangelo (or more accurately his wife) recently gave birth to triplets. Those who have had the misfortune of producing their own demon spawn may know that restful sleep is a rare commodity in the household with a newborn child. Pietrangelo has presumably spent most of his time at home during this opening few weeks of the season, given the Blues have only played away against Washington (10/1) and last night against Chicago. One night away from home, is not enough to wipe away accumulated fatigue and sleep debt. Thus, despite the Blues regaining Robert Bortuzzo and Joel Edmundson over the past few days, the Ducks may be able to take advantage of a defensive unit that is under-performing, and either short on match practice or riddled with fatigue. A fatigue the Ducks can hope was only exacerbated by the over-time game the Blues played last night.

Currently the Ducks are generating corsi for attempts at a 4th in league worst manner, which is subsequently resulting in a 5th worst rank for scoring chances for, and 9th worst for high danger chances for. However on the back of their high shooting percentages, the Ducks have crept into the middle third of the league for goal scoring. While the Ducks have only managed to out-shoot the Detroit Red Wings this season, and at first blush seem unlikely to do so against the St. Louis Blues, the Blues’ weakened defense gives the Ducks a chance to score. Playing for a fan-base that loves to see goals scored, but hates goal scorers, playing the Blues may be just the tonic the Ducks need to provide that fan service.

Should Ryan Miller pick up from John Gibson, and maintain an unearthly save percentage, and should the Ducks goal scorers continue to shoot at a high percentage, they have a puncher’s chance of walking away from this one with the points.


Statistics and raw data collected from naturalstattrick.com, nhl.com, or by @unsoundscience, unless otherwise stated.

Also I couldn't find a way to work this into the article, but its a thing of beauty and I want to share it with the world as often as I possibly can. Enjoy.

SAT% (5v5). Magnificent.