After going 5-1 on their most recent home stand, the Anaheim Ducks began the second half of the season about as well as one could have hoped.
Despite the injury to captain Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks have battled hard and are beginning to string together wins.
The team got off to a horrific start to the season, but have since rebounded quite well and are currently in the middle of the dogfight that is the Western Conference playoff race. And after missing the playoffs last season for the first time in four years, the team is poised find their way back in the fight for Lord Stanley's Cup.
All Stats Courtesy of NHL.com as of 1/14/10 2:10 PM PST.
The Ducks have done most of the heavy lifting on their schedule just about halfway through the season. While they were consistently among the leaders in games played the first half, other teams are going to have to catch up at some point during the second half of the season. While this will narrow their lead in points as teams catch up in games, the Ducks continue to increase the gap so that they won't slip too much in the standings when everyone is squared up.
Not only that, but the team only has five sets of back-to-back games the rest of the season. Compare that to the nine that they have had to play up to this point, and the odds look good. The team is also finished with their season long seven-game road trip and is only faced with road trips no longer than four games.
They will have two more road games than home games on the the remaining schedule, which may not look great for a team with an 8-11-3 road record, but seven of their regulation losses and two overtime losses came withing the first two months of the season, when the Ducks were a much different (and worse) team.
Since the beginning of the December, the team is 4-4-1 on the road, which is good enough to get them into the playoffs if they keep up the stellar play at home.
When the Ducks started the season 0-3, giving up at least four goals in every game, many were quick to put this defensive group in the bottom five in the league. But the defense has come a very long way since the start of the season, and after rotating in different players and chancing the pairings each game, it looks as if Randy Carlyle has finally found his six guys he can count on every night.
The No. 1 unit of Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman are by far Anaheim’s best combo. Visnovsky has posted 36 points in 45 games, good for fifth in defensive scoring. His 24:34 minutes per game leads the Ducks and is good for 17th in the league. He is the quarterback of a deadly Ducks powerplay that clicks at 22.6 percent and ranks fourth in the league.
Lydman, meanwhile, leads the team with 108 blocked shots, good for third in the league and is also tied for first in the NHL with a +26 rating. Lydman also leads all defensemen in total shorthanded ice time with 167:49.
While the first unit has been together most of the year, the bottom four has been mixed and matched with just about every possible combination. But thanks to the play of rookie Cam Fowler, the Ducks have been able to stabalize the second pairing by placing him alongside veteran Andreas Lilja. Fowler is having a rookie year to remember, with 23 points in 40 games, and he leads all rookies in ice time per game, with 22:19.
The Ducks have also finally found a consistent bottom pairing with two big hitters in Andy Sutton and Luca Sbisa. Sutton missed 23 games with a hand injury and Luca Sbisa was sent to the minors after starting the season poorly. Although it took the two a bit of time to find their games, both players continue to bring the physical game every night and play a low risk and reliable style that every coach wants out of their botttom pairing.
The Ducks are a team that truly possess a variety of forwards that can score.
In Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks have three talented big men who can cycle the puck for extraordinary periods of time. These three players love getting their noses dirty, either in front of the net or in the corners as well.
Perry is enjoying his best season to date, with 47 points in 46 games, good for ninth in the league in points. He wreaks havoc in front of the net and gets under the skin of opposing goalies and players on a nightly basis.
Bobby Ryan has also potted 21 goals in 46 games, putting him at ninth in the league.
Although Getzlaf has had a bit of a down year with 37 points in 40 games and a nasty injury, he is still able to dominate games when he wants to and should be fresh and well rested down the stretch.
The Ducks also possess two dangerous snipers in Teemu Selanne and Joffrey Lupul. Selanne is enjoying a historic campaign for a 40-year-old, with 39 points in 37 games, putting him at 24th in the league, despite missing six games with a groin injury. Eighteen of Selanne's points have come on the powerplay, where he is by far the Ducks' most dangerous weapon.
Joffrey Lupul, on the other hand, is coming off nearly a year without playing an NHL game due to a serious blood infection. With four goals and nine points in 18 games, Lupul still has a bit of work to do to get back into game shape, but he possesses an absolutely lethal shot that gives the Ducks another threat to score.
In Saku Koivu, Jason Blake and Brandon McMillan, the Ducks have talented forwards with great speed, grit and forecheck ability. All three of these players can put up respectable offensive numbers and create scoring chances on any given shift.
In Maxim Lapierre, George Parros, Aaron Voros, Kyle Chipchura and Matt Beleskey, the Ducks can bring the physical play on any given night to give opposing defensemen nightmares.
Under head coach Randy Carlyle, the Ducks have consistently been one of the best teams down the final stretch of the regular season. Starting in 2005-06, the Ducks went 16-8-1 after the Olympic break and qualified for the playoffs as the sixth seed.
The 2006-07 season saw the Ducks post a 16-8-6 record from the start of February en route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
In 2007-08, the Ducks were a league best 20-6-2 down the stretch which gave them the No. 4 seed.
In the 2008-09 season, Anaheim went 17-11-2 to complete their playoff push and sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed.
Last season was the first time since the lockout the Ducks were not able to make a late run, as they went 9-7-4 after the Olympics. However, most of these were meaningless games as the team knew the playoffs were out of the question, and they struggled with injuries.
So in four out of the last five seasons, the Ducks have made tremendous late-season surges. Randy Carlyle has shown that as long as his team is still in the race, they can never be counted out.
Perhaps his grinding style works better when teams are worn out from all the games, but for whatever reason, he is able to get a lot out of his teams late in the season. If the Ducks can go into the playoffs hot, they are going to be a team no one wants to face come late April.
With 36 games remaining in the season, the Ducks are going to need around 45-48 points to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. Be on the lookout for yet another late-season surge from the Anaheim Ducks, because Randy Carlyle has shown his team can always catch fire late in the season.
Jonas Hiller is having the best season of his career and proving to everyone in the NHL that he is one of the elite goaltenders in the league. After an amazing playoff performance in 2009, Hiller had a mediocre campaign last year, with a 2.73 goals against average and a .919 save percentage, raising some questions as to his ability to perform consistently in the regular season.
This year, however, Jonas Hiller is in the talk for the Vezina trophy.
Hiller is tied for first in the NHL in wins with 22, and tied for third in shutouts with four. His .927 save percentage is good for fourth in the league, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that Hiller has faced a league-high 1279 shots, over 100 more than the next closest goalie. He is first in the league in games played with 40, and second in total time on ice with just under 2,300 minutes played.
The only worry that Hiller and the Ducks might have is fatigue. He plays a ton of games and faces a ton of shots, but as of right now, he shows no signs of slowing down. The Ducks really cannot afford to sit him in too many games, as he gives the Ducks a chance to win every night he is on the ice and can flat out steal games in which the Ducks deserves to lose.
While Curtis McElhinney has been a solid backup, the Ducks cannot worry about Hiller’s energy in the playoffs. They have to worry about getting there first, and starting Jonas Hiller is the best way to do that if he keeps up this incredible play.