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Ducks’ Coach Randy Carlyle Could Be on the Hot Seat Again

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The Anaheim Ducks’ latest multi-game losing streak could have Randy Carlyle on the hot seat, but bad puck luck is mostly to blame for Anaheim’s skid.

NHL: Anaheim Ducks at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Eight.

That’s the number of games the Anaheim Ducks have lost in a row, which is actually the second time this season they have lost seven or more consecutive games. Even so, Anaheim remains in a playoff spot, albeit a very tenuous one with a cluster of teams hot on their heels.

Naturally, a prolonged losing streak is accompanied by (figurative) pitchforks and torches from fans. At least it did in the Ducks’ first slump. Calls for head coach Randy Carlyle’s job were rampant, but those ravenous protests from the fanbase never felt like they had much teeth thanks to a swath of injuries.

Names like Sam Steel, Max Comtois, Isac Lundestrom, Troy Terry, Ben Street, and Kiefer Sherwood dotted the roster, giving Carlyle’s crew a training camp feel as opposed to an actual National Hockey League roster. Of those names, only Sherwood’s remains, with the rest sent down to the minors as healthy bodies have returned.

Justifiably, Anaheim general manager Bob Murray did not flinch, choosing patience over the protest of fans, even as the “Fire Carlyle” chants came down. The Ducks were getting brutally out-shot and out-chanced game in and game out, but Vezina-level play from John Gibson managed to keep them afloat.

The Ducks still aren’t fully healthy. Rickard Rakell has been out for over a month with an ankle issue. Corey Perry won’t be back until March. Patrick Eaves’ health remains a complete unknown, and Cam Fowler just made his return on Sunday night. Yet in the last 25 games, Anaheim has seen its underlying numbers improve to the tune of 15th overall in terms of controlling on-ice shot attempts at five-on-five. Although nowhere near elite, it’s a marked improvement over the first two months of the season where they languished at or near the very bottom of the rankings.

Carlyle has an interesting relationship with certain corners of the fanbase. On one hand, he never gets credit for when things go well. On the other, he always gets blamed when things go poorly. In recent years, that hasn’t been necessarily wrong when this team has been healthy. As Murray told the media last summer, “good goaltending covers up a lot of crap”. Right now though, there (as) much “crap” to cover up.

Anaheim’s rolling shot rate this season, as depicted by Sean Tierney.

During the Ducks’ current losing streak, they rank sixth and eighth in shot attempts for and against per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, respectively. The quality of the shots they’ve given up is still below average, but wouldn’t it make sense to give Carlyle at least some credit for that improvement, especially considering that neither Fowler nor Rakell have been at his disposal for much of it? He’s had to work a medley of Jacob Larsson, Josh Mahura, Andy Welinski, and Jake Dotchin into his blueline, none of which have much NHL experience.

So what has ailed Anaheim throughout this latest downturn? For one: their power play stinks. Sure, Rakell and Fowler have been out, but it wasn’t good with them either. Some blame can certainly be attributed to the coaching staff there, especially as the declining Ryan Kesler continues to be deployed on the first unit.

Really though, the Ducks just haven’t been able to buy a bounce, which is exacerbated by the fact that they don’t generate a ton of scoring chances. The slump has them shooting a league-worst 3.96 percent, an abysmal figure that gives them the honor of being the only team under four percent.

In the last eight games, their expected goals-for is 2.29 per 60 minutes of five-on-five, a number based on the quality of looks that they’re getting. That ranks them 19th. Not great, but not atrocious either. Their actual goals-for per 60 during that same stretch: 1.26, the very worst mark in the league. Clearly, there is a major luck element at play, and it sounds like it might lead to a coaching change.

Kevin Weekes, the ever-entertaining NHL Network host, tweeted that Carlyle’s job may be on the line in the midst of Anaheim’s latest loss. That was soon followed by a similar tweet from Jonathan Davis, a Southern California-based NHL Network correspondent.

Humorous typos aside, perhaps both are getting their information from the same source, especially with Weekes being a full-time NHL Network employee and Davis making regular appearances there. To boot, both tweets were 39 minutes apart and structured similarly. The tweets are a bit of a landmark in the latest Carlyle era, as there have never been any similar reports or even rumblings that his job has been in jeopardy.

Carlyle is in the last year of his contract. Letting him go now is a lot less costly to Anaheim ownership than it would have been even three months ago. Paying coaches not to coach isn’t a very popular option for most NHL owners. Maybe Murray really has seen enough. Maybe the recent improvements Anaheim has made are not enough. Maybe it no longer matters that this team isn’t fully healthy. Good fortune in the way of great goaltending kept Carlyle afloat in the early going of the season. Ironically, a flip in that fortune in the form of bad puck luck might do him in.