Anaheim Ducks @ Toronto Maple Leafs
Monday, February 5th, 1600hrs PST
Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada
TV: TSN4, PRIME
Radio: AM 830
Your Enemy: Pension Plan Puppets
Wouldn’t it be a fun story if John Gibson was healthy and ready to go tonight? And Frederik Andersen was playing in net for the Maple Leafs. We could take this game and create a narrative for each respective player’s career, deciding who won the trade on the result of this game alone. But that would be crazy. So let us look at some other things.
Both teams are coming into this game off the back of bad losses two nights ago. The Leafs, after winning four on the trot and with back to back shutouts, proceeded to get absolutely thumped by the Boston Bruins. An “artists” impression of the game can be seen below.
The Bruins came out and were all over the Leafs like a cheap suit. Only one tally was recorded for the Bruins in the first period (Patrice Bergeron, 4.29 min), but it wasn't for want of trying. 25-11 Corsi attempts, 10-2 scoring chances, and how did Bergeron get that open??? From there the game tightened up somewhat, but Ducks fans know Freddie and when he lets them in he really lets them in. Speaking of Mr. Andersen, his numbers over the past month are somewhat superior to his season marks, 2.36 GAA and .926 SV% to 2.61 GAA and .922 SV%. However once again, Ducks fans know that these numbers cant be taken at face value. Over the past 8 games, only half have been over .900 SV%, and in only 3 has he allowed less than 3 goals. It turns out that the odd shutout can have a marked effect on statistics in a microcosm.
What does this mean for the Ducks? Well, the Ducks fumbled the ball in recent games letting slip 3 relatively easy points, taking losses against the Ottawa Senators (in overtime) and most recently the Montreal Canadiens. These losses saw them tumble them out of a playoff position, and now once more they’re on the outside looking in. The 3rd placed Pacific team, the LA Kings, now have a single point lead on top of a game in hand and 3 regulation wins, should it come down to that. Certainly not an insurmountable lead, yet the Ducks will need to win this game to salvage the current road trip and keep pace with the playoff race.
Freddie, noted sieve and owner of the #3in7 hashtag for life (Editor’s Note: Gibson has also had 3 in 6-DK), gives the Ducks an opportunity to win back a playoff position and score some goals. 3 goals, 1 goal, 2 goals, are the totals from this road trip thus far. Given Freddie has nights he couldn't stop a beach ball, and that they’ve occurred more often than not this month, it could be a chance for the Ducks to create an offensive explosion - not the type that will curse you out as it goes up like fireworks, but the fun hockey type. Currently, the Ducks have a number of their “high” scorers sitting on more-than-likely unsustainable shooting percentages. It would bode well the attempt to fire a little more volume at the net in a bid to mitigate the likely decreases in accuracy on minimal attempts.
I’d also like to use this time to discuss the Ducks up and down form. The Ducks are just about as healthy as they can possibly be. At least on paper. A key component to any come back from injury is to allow adequate time to recover and round into game shape. Not everyone can be Getzlaf and come in dominating. That’s why he’s Ryan Getzlaf and you’re not - Although it should be noted that he's not scored for four games himself now. What this means is that players such as Ryan Kesler, who spent a long period of time on the bench should be given more time before judgments are made. Even players such as Hampus Lindholm - who has been back a while - is likely to continue to suffer somewhat from missing a preseason, as well as the after-effects of the injury he suffered. Quite frankly he may never reach the peaks he was projected to get too, and he will certainly be under par for a good season before he “fully recovers.” I mention this, as I believe patience is required in the “what have you done for me lately” short memory world of sport.
Outside of Getzlaf and the recently injured Gibson, a number of players have suffered some dip in form compared to what we might be used to seeing them operate at. This, partially, is going to be an effect of coaching either by the on-ice system or man management. Carlyle’s system oft has (all of his) players chasing the puck into the low corners, effectively cutting the defensive zone in half. This is fine in theory, as the extra manpower can reclaim the puck. However in practice, it doesn’t often work out that way, and the forwards often have to change direction rapidly and skate back out to the blue line. Rinse, wash, and repeat - for future reference, let's call it the accordion (dubbed so by Gus Katsaros, 2013). This style of skating can increase fatigue, which can be noticeable come games end. However, when this is actioned game in and out, with guys who are already short of full fitness, a genuine fatigue can set in. Many instances of sustained pressure from the opposition forwards are created when the low zone collapse is initiated. The increase in accumulated fatigue, concurrent with a poor system, may in part produce the periods of hockey that we see the Ducks coast through.
Those “missing periods” are something that they - the Ducks - have done a lot of in recent times. At one point, it was the dreaded second-period slump. Then they didn’t show up until the second period. At some stage, someone (the coach, I’m not trying to bag him, this is literally part of his god damned job) is going to need to get these guys to be ready from the get-go. That aside, however, the Ducks come into this game, struggling to score. It’s long been a belief that as long as Getzlaf goes, the Ducks will go with him. A belief that has largely been proven correct. The Ducks are flush with “depth” scoring. Players like Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique fill this spot admirably. Andrew Cogliano too can chip in with the odd point. Ryan Kesler is a 50 point player In most seasons, although his scoring rates are oft lower than many would like - Ironic since he always seems to be shooting in the 17-20% ranges. All of this depth, yet very few stars. Not so long ago, Adam Henrique had gone through a patch in which he scored a mere 3 points in 15 games following his fast start. He then put up a 6 game point streak to get back on pace for near enough to his typical season’s output. Nonetheless, the sporadic nature of the scoring makes it hard to rely on him. This can be said for the others as well. Given the Ducks, cant choose when a player will score - meaning that the sporadic depth scorers could all score in the same game - they need to develop a system of play that is more dangerous more often, or they need to find a consistent scoring threat.
‘GM Bob Murray has stripped away the strength of this club (the defense, moving Shea Theodore and Sami Vatanen) over the past season, in a bid to shore up the offense - a point of concern he made public after last seasons conclusion. That shoring up has largely consisted of acquiring Henrique (hat tip to J.T. Brown, but he's no scorer). A fine player who is a much better 3C than who they were using in that position before (i.e. Antoine Vermette), and a piece of a very strong spine behind Getzlaf and Kesler. The Ducks need to parlay that center depth into useful scoring. The Pittsburgh Penguins, for a time, showed the hockey world what a strong set of pivots can do. I don’t necessarily think that anyone is realistically comparing Getzlaf, Kesler, and Henrique, to the best player in hockey (not actually kidding, I truly believe Evgeni Malkin is incredible), Sidney Crosby, and Jordan Staal/Nick Bonino. However, the Ducks group is still a solid collection of players, comparable to any set of pivots in the league today. The Ducks simply need more from the names, not Getzlaf.
Which leads back to the Maple Leafs and Frederik Andersen. The Leafs may have a powerful group of young forwards that we can, and should, be envious of. But their defense still leaves a lot to be desired at this stage. Andersen, while a solid enough netminder, has been known to let goals in bunches. This provides the Ducks depth players a chance to get on the board, and for Getzlaf to break his four-game scoreless drought. If the Ducks, as a collective group, can score early, its more than plausible that Andersen could crumble.
All Eyes on Me
It might have been fun to showcase the handsome Finnish Kasperi Kapanen, now that he's been brought up to the big club - although in a 4th line role - to flat out dominate opposing teams with suspect bottom 6 lines. But I almost like the Ducks fourth line as constructed, and the 3rd line has oft been the Ducks best in recent days. Thus tonight, Mitch Marner, is the apple of my eye.
For the past couple of months, Marner has been rumored to be going to the Edmonton Oilers (here), New York Rangers (here), and who knows where else. Only last month, Don Cherry (here) made comments about using him to acquire Erik Gudbranson from the Canucks - I know I know, you don't have to tell me. Nonetheless, Marner has picked up the pace from his “slow” start, earning 5 points in his past 7 games. I hesitate to say slow, as he’s on pace for a season in the mid 50 point range - something only a small handful of Ducks are likely to do. Having been moved about the lineup, he seems to be somewhat settled on a line with the underrated and similarly “struggling” Nazem Kadri (17 goals, 13 assists, on the season, with a current 5 game point streak). Marner has fired off 20 shots on net in the past 5 games, seemingly going high volume, low volume, high volume. The Ducks game, should it follow the pattern, would be a low shots volume game. Let’s see if notable top 4 defenceman Kevin Bieksa and his colleagues can keep the Marner’s shot volume down and prevent enough rebounds that Marner and his linemate Kadri go hungry tonight.
Keys to the Game
Goaltending - There aren’t many games that you can say you played well when you get 5 hung on you. Yet that's more or less the case for the Ducks coming off a 3 goal loss to the Canadiens. Most of the team did play well... But Ryan Miller put in a performance that, while expected of a back up on occasion, was a reason many were hesitant to praise his signing. The game was over in short order. Even the backup’s backup, Reto Berra, struggled somewhat. So much as the Ducks are ranked highly for goals-against, this ranking is slowly slipping as the season grows and is near based entirely on good goaltending. If the Ducks can’t manufacture better than league average goaltending on a nightly basis, the season will slip away from them. Tonight they face a top 10 in the league offense (7th overall), and the netminders will need to be sharp from the outset.
The Penalty Kill - I feel like a broken record saying this near every game, but the Ducks should move away from their current passive system. It’s almost (but still not) fine when the netminder is John Gibson. But most other goaltenders are going to struggle when the defense gives up open looks like the Ducks current system does. Miller and Berra, despite fans liking them, are not Big Daddy Gibson. Ducks need to do a better job of engaging through neutral ice, and then the puck handlers when the zone has been breached. Naturally leaving good scorers alone (why is this a thing they keep doing?) should be prevented. To speak in general terms, the Ducks should move away from the passive box scheme they most often employ. It may be too late in the season to do this on every occasion, but some practice time should be allocated to this facet of the game.
Play a Full 60 Minutes of Hockey - It’s been far too often that the team has gone missing for a period (or three) at a time. Carlyle says all the right media things in his coach speak, but the bottom line is that it is his job to prepare these guys and have them going full tilt from start to finish. This needs to happen against the faster skating Maple Leafs. It's no secret that the Ducks - as a group - skate about as fast as a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter and that by comparison, the young Leafs forwards are all as quick as a young man finishing in college. The Ducks have long had trouble sticking with fast skating teams, and if they’re not ready to go they could easily get left behind. Particularly so if they persist in fatiguing the supporting forwards, by continuing to play their typical “accordion” style defensive system. I’ll want to see them engage from the outset and keep it up for a full 60.
How many shots will it take to score 3 goals against Andersen?
This poll is closed
The league average amount of shots.
All of them tonight, and some of next game as well.