Let’s go over the facts really quickly. The Calgary Flames will be taking on the Anaheim Ducks on round two of the 2015 postseason. With 109 points, the Ducks finished 12 points ahead of Calgary in the Pacific Division standings. Anaheim is undoubtedly better than Calgary’s first round opponent in Vancouver. The Flames have a long, well publicized run of futility at the Honda Center. Calgary will almost certainly be viewed as the underdog in this series. You can’t really dispute those facts I just listed off. One thing I can dispute, however, is the notion that the Ducks are a true Western Conference powerhouse.
Stop screaming at me, I’m very fragile. THE DUCKS HAD 109 POINTS! ANAHEIM HAS WON THEIR DIVISION FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS! EVERYONE SAYS THE DUCKS ARE AWESOME SO THEY ARE! I hear you, I really do, so please stop shouting. The Ducks are a good team and they are a legitimate playoff squad. But unlike teams like Minnesota and Chicago, I see pretty clear areas to exploit. Whether it’s the Flames that exploit them, well, that’s another question.
First and foremost, there are real question marks for me about Anaheim in net. Frederik Andersen has yet to lose in this year’s postseason, and he was just fine in a first round sweep of the Winnipeg Jets. But his regular season was just okay. Andersen’s 0.914 overall save percentage, and 0.920 at even strength, puts him near the bottom of NHL number ones. To put it in context, both those numbers are lower than Jonas Hiller’s regular season totals.
Andersen put up wins in the regular season and is probably their best option as a number one. But to say that the Ducks boast strong goaltending would be untrue. Eddie Lack scares me more than Andersen does, and I think Calgary has a chance to come out on top in a head-to-head goaltending battle.
On the one hand, if you look at Anaheim’s record in one goal games, it’s very impressive. With a record of 33-1-7 in one goal affairs, the Ducks won more than 80% of their games in that situation. They must just be really good when playing close hockey, right? Well, I’m here to poke some holes in that theory.
Anaheim had a 0.805 winning percentage in one goal games during the regular season. Since 1997-1998 (as far back as the NHL tracks the stat), no one has been above 80% in that category. Almost every time there is an outlier season like that, there’s a little more to it than just skill, grit, determination, or whatever other hockey nomenclature you want to use. There’s undoubtedly a word involved that has turned into a four letter bomb for some hockey fans: luck.
For sure, the Ducks are comfortable playing in close games, but you’re telling me they’re better at it than, say, Chicago or Tampa? Of course not, because some of it comes down to good fortune. Will that favourable luck evaporate this year? No one can say for certain, because it’s totally random, but winning a bunch of one goal games doesn’t automatically tell you how good a team is.
The same can be said about all those third period comeback wins for Anaheim. The Ducks tied an NHL record with 12 wins when trailing after 40 minutes. For context, that’s two more than the Flames, who were labelled the comeback kids all year long. If I chalked up a few of those Calgary comebacks to the hockey gods, then I have to do the same with Anaheim.
I know, I know, the Ducks did it three times in their first round series with Winnipeg. In fact, they set a new NHL record for doing it three straight times in a playoff series. That’s great, and just like Calgary, it shows that they are a resilient bunch who are never out of a game. But if they were truly a dominant team, would they be finding themselves trailing after two thirds of a game so regularly? It’s a valid question to ask.
Finally, it’s not as if the Ducks had overwhelming underlying stats. They were just a middle of the road possession team in the regular season, only slightly better than Vancouver. The Ducks finished the regular season with a Corsi for rating of 51.2%, which put them 16th int the league. Anaheim did a decent job of limiting shots against over 82 games, but the thing that makes me more skeptical is the just okay job they did generating offence at the other end of the ice.
Even looking at their best players, we’re not talking about dominant possession numbers. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all finished with positive shots rates, but only slightly. Getzlaf’s 3.52 raw Corsi number is the best of the bunch, starting 50.6% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone. For sake of comparison, the top players on, say, Chicago (Toews, Sharp, Hossa) were all in double digits. So, sure, Anaheim is a better puck possession team than the Flames are, but they’re not one of the elite groups either.
Much like the piece I wrote about the Canucks prior to round one, this is not a piece highlighting how Calgary is better than Anaheim, or how they should be victorious in this series. It’s more to point out that, once again, the Flames got a pretty favourable draw. Despite their impressive regular season and first round display, Anaheim is beatable…by someone. I’m not convinced that someone will be the Flames, but as they say, that’s why they play the games.