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Ducks vs Avalanche PREVIEW: Tumbling Down The Mountain.

Can the Ducks be a Beacon, and “swim” to the surface to survive?

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Anaheim Ducks Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Game 22

Date: Sunday, November 18th

Time: 5:00 PT / 8:00 ET

Location: Honda Center

TV: Prime, ALT

Radio: AM830

The Ducks come into this game with a little bit of a season’s resurgence going on. Despite earlier season woes of historically poor shot metrics, metrics that still statistically haunt the Ducks today, the Ducks have been much better of late. In the month of November, the Ducks have risen from amongst the league’s worst to be one of the league’s average teams. That is to say that they’re ranking near the middle of league for shot attempts (17th in league, 49.66 CF%). A result that has given them middling results in the win column (3-3-2) over this month.

Interestingly, this has coincided with a regression in all-world netminder, John Gibson’s, play. Over the month of November, Gibson has made 3 above average starts, 3 below average starts, and 1 average start, for an overall save percentage of .896 and a goals allowed average of 2.57. While the GAA is merely 0.02 worse off than his season mark, his save percentage is dramatically (.32) different. While not calling Gibson out or throwing him under the bus, it should be noted that the Ducks require Gibson to be good. In games through November, in which Gibson had league average or better netminding, the Ducks went 2-0-2. That is to say points in each game. In each of his below average starts, the Ducks lost. The team in front of him is simply not capable of provide the scoring support required to help out their netminder in these situations. This has largely been the case all season, with the Ducks not winning any game in which they received less than near-perfect netminding.

What is note worthy- and has haunted the Ducks all season- is that if the opposition team scores 3 goals or more the Ducks have lost that game. This means that while the Ducks need John Gibson to be on top of his game, they also need to be wary of high scoring teams. Thus, the Colorado Avalanche pose a significant challenge for a Ducks team that is severely lacking in defensive talent now Cam Fowler is out with injury.

The Av’s come into this game as the second hottest scoring team in the league, boasting a 3.53 goals for (per game) average. A full goal and a half better than the number of goals the Ducks seemingly need to keep opposition teams to in order to win the game. However, a great deal of Colorado’s scoring potential is based on their top line led by Nathan MacKinnon (12 Goals, 14 assists, in 19 games played). Gabriel Landeskog (51 goal, 86 point pace) and Mikko Rantanen (125 point pace) flank him. However, the players behind the hottest trio in hockey are far more human. Perhaps an over-reliance on the top line could potentially open an area for Coach Carlyle - the match-up coach - to focus on.

It’s plausible that Carlyle could see his way back to reuniting Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, combine them with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg (and a centre to be named), and send them out to lock down and shut down the Avalanche top line. To be frank, it seems unlikely that any human being can stop this line from scoring, but slowing them down could pay dividends. The vaunted shut-down-line, and a pairing of the team’s last remaining top 4 defensemen seem like the best manner of achieving this goal. Alternatively, and perhaps foolishly, the Ducks could take a leaf out Dennis Rodman’s old Detroit teams when they versed Michael Jordan’s Bulls. That is to say, lock down on everyone else, and if that Colorado top line (the Jordan equivalent) is good enough to win by themselves, so be it. That said, with the piles of points that trio is putting up, and the typical hockey mentality shining through, I think we see hard matches from the shutdown line all game long.

All Eyes on Me

It would be easy to watch the Avalanche top line, since they’ll be the ones on the ice at all times slinging shot after shot at John Gibson. However, that would be too easy. Given the lack of secondary scoring, it could behoove the Ducks staff, and fans, to keep an eye on Carl Sodergerg. Given that the Avalanche are typically a one line team, secondary scoring has become an important factor for them. It may seem somewhat odd to focus on Soderberg given that he is a 3rd line pivot, who has cracked the 50-point barrier once, while never recording a 20-goal NHL season.

However, Soderberg rolls into this game on the back of a 4-game point streak, in which he has scored 2 goals, and 3 assists. In more than one of those games, he has been the Avalanche’s best player. Given the likely match ups of the Ryan Kesler line against the Avalanche top line, and the Avalanche’s line of Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Jost, and Colin Wilson matching up against the Ryan Getzlaf line, it seems likely that the newly formed Anaheim third line will be given the duties against Soderberg. None of Nick Ritchie, Adam Henrique, or Pontus Aberg, can be considered (and with only the greatest kindness) better than passable defensive players. Thus Soderberg could be in line to extend his point streak should the Ducks not manage to control the play.

Given the weaknesses that currently reside in the Ducks’ defensive unit, and with deficiencies in the forward lines defensive abilities, this match up could be amongst the more interesting - in terms of high event hockey - seen on the night.

Keys to the Game

  1. Shut down the MacKinnon line: This line is hotter than the devil’s armpits on the fourth of July. Rumor has it that they need to soak their uniforms in the tears of orphans, so that they don't spontaneously combust. The fables tell that hockey gods themselves cast them out of hockey heaven, as their scoring prowess was simply too great, and no hockey deity could compare. They now grace us mere mortals with their silky skills and delightful dangles. Beguiling passing, and precision shooting underlie a perfection otherwise unseen in the offensive zone.
  2. Take advantage of the Jost line: This line is a combined -9 on the season. While this figure, and that of their goals-for percentage (40%) is quite damning, their overall shot attempt data is quite positive. That is to say, more often than not, this line controls the shot attempts, scoring chances, and dangerous scoring chances. However, perhaps, their mental fortitude can be questioned. If the Ducks can get after them early, it’s plausible that second guessing themselves could lead to a offensive chances and goals, by a relentless Anaheim forecheck.
  3. Enjoy Aberg: He’s shown us the Bobby Ryan stick-handle-through-everyone goal. He’s shown us the big-wind-up-from-the-circles goal. It might all be a mirage of small samples sizes, but it’s a lot of fun in a season that seems to be talked about in an overly negative tone. Who the hell knows what Aberg will bring us next? Sit back. Enjoy. For a waiver wire pick up, he’s taking us on a hell of a ride.