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Anaheim Ducks @ Columbus Blue Jackets PREVIEW: Contenders, Pretenders and Trends

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The Ducks have been trending in the right direction all season. Not quite a Christmas miracle, but it’s a nice present

Dallas Stars v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Game 34

Date: Saturday, December 15th

Time: 4:00 PT / 7:00 ET

Location: Nationwide Arena, Columbus

TV: FS-O, KCOP-13

Radio: AM830


One of five away games prior to the Christmas break, the Ducks will be looking to start their celebrations early. While the trip is composed of teams currently in the playoff picture (or one point out in the case of the Rangers [Tuesday’s game]), there appear to be very few who might be considered legitimate cup fancies within the group. The Columbus Blue Jackets fit into that collection of “are they or aren’t they” teams.

Currently second (at time of writing) in their respective Divisions, there are a number of parallels between the two teams. Both teams are strong in net, with them icing Sergei Bobrovsky, the Ducks icing John Gibson. Both defences are led by relatively young up and coming stars. They have Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, whereas the Ducks ice Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour. Up front, they have Artemi Panarin, the Ducks have Ondrej Kase.

However, there are some notable differences. Perhaps the most dramatic change in the contrasting trends of both teams’ shot attempts. The Ducks moved from being the 30th ranked team in the league during the month of October, to be the current 6th highest shooting team (by volume) in December. Conversely, the Jackets have shot less in each month of the season, dipping from 11th in the month of October to 21st throughout December.

Shot Attempt rates by both teams in each month this season so far

It’s worth mention here that the Blue Jackets record over 13 missed shots per game. A number that is precisely one standard deviation above the mean. That is to say, the Jackets are shooting the puck less each month, and that many of these attempts are not getting on net or making the netminder work. While this can work out, as seen in the video clip here, it’s far better to challenge the netminders. If the Jackets don't make Gibson work, he could shut them out.

Similarly to getting shots on net, the Ducks have improved in each month with respect to tightening up their team defence. From the season’s beginning to present day, the Ducks have shaved off nearly 13 shots attempts against them. Given that the Jackets are struggling to get pucks on net, allowing them fewer shot attempts would appear to provide the Ducks with a measurable advantage despite playing in the opposition building.

However, the Blue Jackets too have tightened up defensively. They do prevent shot attempts to a slightly better degree than the Ducks, although should the Ducks continue to shell the opposition netminder to the same extent as they have thus far this month, it seems likely that the slight advantage in shot suppression, to the Jackets, will be negligible. Nonetheless, it is something the Ducks should be aware of. Particularly given that Bobrovsky in net, while broken down on struggle street this season, could easily turn in a Vezina worthy performance. After all that’s just the Ducks luck.

Shot attempt rates against both teams in each month this season so far

All this to say, that while the both teams sit in second place in their respective divisions (at time of writing at least), they are trending in two very different directions. The Ducks’ GM, Bob Murray, recently came out and suggested that his team was not a contender and that it had a lot of work to do. He also mentioned that his team was giving up too many chances, and not getting enough themselves. While the data above suggests that Murray may be working with outdated data, it’s also a scathing reflection on their opposition for tonight’s game. If the Ducks are not contenders, despite their current improvements and league rankings (in the areas highlighted by the GM), then what are the Blue Jackets? According to Bob Murray, they certainly aren't contenders.

Who To Keep Ya Minces On?

Cam Atkinson may not be the name you think about first when talking about the Columbus Blue Jackets, but with 19 goals and 34 points in 30 games thus far this season he should be in the conversation.

While Cam hasn’t scored a goal since the fifth of this month, he has collected four assists in his past four games, and has 23 shots on net in the past five games. Ducks fans will be well aware that their own Ondrej Kase shoots at similar rates, and has recently come into a scoring binge. It seems likely that should Atkinson continue to pepper the netminder, that he too will break his goal scoring drought.

He’s well worth keep your eyes on in this game.


Data from nhl.com and naturalstattrick.com