If the season ended today, the Ducks would actually make the playoffs. They are currently tied with both the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames with 85 points, but find themselves in eighth place due to the fact that they have fewer shootout wins than both teams.
Despite the fact that they are in eighth place, this Ducks team is a very talented one that, when firing on all cylinders, could make a lot of noise. In the constantly shifting Western Conference, they find themselves only seven points back of the division-leading San Jose Sharks with a game in hand.
However, the season is hardly sewn up. Here are five improvements the Ducks need to make to make the playoffs.
Always one of the most penalized teams in the league, the Ducks have also taken 287 minor penalties, which puts them right in the middle of the league at 15.
Though this is down from last season, it is still quite high. Quite simply, you can't expect to win games when your players are in the penalty box.
The Ducks have to learn to be more disciplined away from the puck, as they are also not the tightest team defensively. Which brings me to my next point...
It's especially bad when you take a lot of penalties and also have the 22nd-ranked penalty kill in the league.
Unfortunately, this is the spot the Ducks find themselves in.
At this time in the season, with many teams in the playoff hunt, games tend to tighten up. Being caught in the box with a mediocre penalty kill could undo your entire season, especially in the ultra-competitive West.
It is usually customary for a team's top forward to skate over 20 minutes per night. However, the Ducks have three of their top forwards skating at that rate, with leading scorer Corey Perry averaging a whopping 21:56.
Though they are producing extremely well, players like Jason Blake and Saku Koivu need to pick up their offensive games as well. Koivu is producing at a decent rate, but Blake has only 14 goals and 28 points, mediocre numbers for a player receiving the amount of ice time he gets.
Players like him need to get more involved to spread the scoring around and take some of the weight off of players like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
So this is not necessarily an improvement, but nevertheless, the Ducks have to keep scoring goals frequently. Fortunately for them, they boast three players on their roster who are averaging over a point per game.
Despite injuries, captain Ryan Getzlaf is one of those players, as he has been for the last three seasons. Teemu Selanne continues to defy logic, averaging over a point per game despite being 41 years of age, and surprising winger Corey Perry is second in the NHL in goals with 39 and leads the team with 79 points.
In addition to them, Bobby Ryan has also scored 32 goals and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky leads all blueliners in scoring with 58 points.
In order to continue their march to playoff hockey, they need to score and score often.
Normally, the Ducks feature one of the better goaltenders in the NHL in Jonas Hiller. Unfortunately, Hiller has not played in over a month, being diagnosed with severe vertigo.
In response to this, the Ducks acquired Dan Ellis from the Tampa Bay Lightning, but despite a 6-2-1 record since coming to Anaheim, Ellis has looked shaky. The team recently called up Ray Emery from the AHL, and he has performed extremely well in his two starts(and one period of mop up duty), posting a 2-0-0 record, a 0.87 GAA and a .972 save percentage.
While those numbers likely won't be kept up, the Ducks could have caught lightning in a bottle with Emery. If he can keep them afloat until Hiller's return, the Ducks very well could be in that playoff spot come mid-April.
As an added bonus, I have included another way the Ducks can reach the playoffs this season. When the Ducks acquired Dan Ellis, they also acquired his vast fortune.
The Ducks organization can probably find a way to persuade Dan to simply purchase the other four Pacific Division teams and force them to tank. However, Ellis is normally stingy with his wealth, and due to escrow, was only able to purchase three gold plated submarines instead of the five he wanted. He was also forced to put his unicorn on a diet when he discovered he could no longer afford to feed it the giant panda meat that it desired.
However, I am certain that Ellis could find cash in his coin purse to blow on four NHL teams.
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