Saku Koivu, a key penalty killer, ready for the puck draw
Now that we are a little over a quarter of the way through the season, it's time to look back at how well each piece of Anaheim's roster has done, and which piece of the game needs the most polishing in order to return to the postseason. Let's start with offense. Please keep in mind that I am a tough grader, simply because I know what this club is capable of.
You would think that with some big names such as Ryan Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Corey Perry on the roster that offensive production would be cake for the Ducks. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Anaheim is ranked 23rd in the league with an average of 2.48 goals scored per game—a number that is just slightly lower than last year's 2.84, but there's one key difference. Last year, a 2.84 average was stable enough for seventh in the league, while this year, so many teams have been enjoying score-fest-like games, that the same 2.84 average would sit you in the 16th spot. Yes, sometimes you just get unlucky and are facing an unusually hot goalie, but there are three little words that I find myself screaming at the television every game—shoot the puck!
How can you expect to walk away any nights without getting a solid number of shots on your opponent's goalie? Anaheim is ranked 28th in shots averaged per game with only 27.4, and who knows, if they start lobbing some bad angle shots on net or shoot over passing every time, they could start to find that lucky goals—no matter how ugly—are still points in Anaheim's favor.
When it comes to the Ducks' defense, most hockey fans don't expect much considering Scott Niedermayer retired, and we no longer have the big names such as Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin from the Stanley Cup team in '07. But, let's let the past settle down and focus in on what we have back on the blue line. With some of the league's strongest defenders, why is Anaheim still ranked second-to-last on average shots against per game?
Yes, Jonas Hiller is a great goalie, but the defense cannot be allowing an average of 36 shots through and expect whoever is between the pipes to break their back for every single shot faced. The defense has, of late, started to really form some chemistry between the pairings, and hopefully that's a sign of good things to come, but the Ducks defenders need to focus on keeping their opponent's shots away from the goalie.
Everything I have said might be controversial if you are specifically looking at one defender—Toni Lydman, who has been playing fantastically since his debut with Anaheim. Lydman is top 10 in the league's defenders in +/- with a +11 and has really proven that he can sacrifice a lot to block shots, so he is the main reason that the grade is a C+, instead of a C.
Given the circumstances, both Hiller and McElhinney have been solid in net, however as always, there is room for improvement.
Jonas Hiller who, in my opinion, is built favorably for a butterfly style goalie, has been caught out of position too many times for comfort this season. On the other hand, Curtis McElhinney who has the same build as Hiller, is being shown a new sort of goal tending by Pete Peters, who replaced Francois Allaire as goalie coach. McElhinney has started to make saves that resemble a half stand-up goalie, half butterfly goalie with just dropping one pad to the ice when making saves.
I have to admit that I am personally a butterfly goalie fan so seeing Curtis McElhinney dropping just one pad in the game against Minnesota caught me off-guard and put me on edge. I must also admit that this Curtis-Style (for lack of a formal term) of goal tending, though unorthodox, did seem effective, with the Wild scoring only once in regulation on 27 shots.
Anaheim's power-play units have been surprisingly effective this year, with a 22.1 percent, ranking them eighth in the league thus far—a statistic that is strikingly similar to last year's 21.0 percent which let Anaheim hold the fifth seat in the league. Not much to complain about when discussing Anaheim's power play; they have been working hard to keep the puck in their opponent's zone, which usually converts into some scoring chances. Any team that has Teemu Selanne on their power-play unit is bound to see some production with Selanne ranked fourth in the league with five of his 11 goals coming on the power play.
Penalty Killing: A-
The penalty killing units for Anaheim has seen a complete face lift, which has brought their penalty killing percentage up to 82.4 percent (ranked 15th) from last year's 79.3 percent (ranked 24th). Carlyle has started using some big bodied forwards, such as Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, as the top point of the box of penalty killers. When one of those power forwards is paired with a smart and defensively-minded forward, such as Saku Koivu and two strong defenders, the penalty kill goes smoothly. This year, the Ducks have migrated away from the "collapsing box" strategy and thankfully kept the feet more active and kept pressure on their opponents away from the net.
Given all these different aspects of the game are each graded so differently, it is difficult to come up with one set grade, but overall, the struggling offense and defense was mostly cancelled out by the growth and successes of the special teams. However, there is, like I said before, always room to grow, and hopefully the changes that Anaheim has been making are signs of improvement or future improvement.