Six games into the NHL season the Anaheim Ducks find themselves in first place in the Pacific Division amidst a myriad of injuries. Despite these, they have been playing some of their best October hockey in recent years. The Ducks have made a reputation of starting off slow and getting hot towards the beginning of the playoffs but 2018-19 appears different. Hopefully, their hot start is a sign of how they will play all season. Anaheim currently sits at 4-1-1 with nine points.
Anaheim Ducks Start Hot Despite Large Group of Injuries
The Ducks First Six Games
So far, the road has not been particularly challenging for the Ducks. Of the six teams the Ducks have played so far, only one team – San Jose – was a playoff team in 2018. They have also already played two games against one of the NHL’s worst teams in the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are currently tied for the NHL’s worst record with two points and their only win came in a shootout against the Ducks in their second meeting. However, Anaheim’s start is still impressive. The Ducks have come away with victories in a variety of ways. They picked apart Martin Jones on just 14 shots in their opening game against the Sharks, rode good goaltending to wins against Arizona and the Detroit Red Wings, and ground out a tough win against the St. Louis Blues in their most recent contest.
Team stats do not favour the Ducks right now, but at least they are showing they can find character wins. The one area the Ducks need to be most concerned about it is the lack of shots they are throwing at the net. So far this season, Anaheim is averaging the least shots per game but are finding goals with their 10th ranked shooting percentage. They’ve already been bailed out by their goaltender a couple times this year and are asking a lot of their backend with the lack of offence they’re producing. Jakob Silfverberg (seven pts) and Maxime Comtois (five pts) have been the two brightest stars on the team this year but other players need to claim an offensive role with all the injuries sustained by the Ducks.
Dealing With Injury
After the Ducks catastrophe of injuries in 2017-18 it was hard to think that things were going to mirror last season or possibly get worse. But they did. Last season saw Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Eaves, and Cam Fowler all miss 15 or more games. This season, Corey Perry, Ondrej Kase, Getzlaf, Kesler, and Eaves have already missed some time and all are regulars in the Ducks top-six forwards. They have also been missing young forward Nick Ritchie, who was in a contract dispute with the club. The good news is that he is now signed and will soon re-enter the lineup. Overall, the missing players have led to an extreme lack of offence but it is impossible to think that the offence these players would bring can be replaced by the current roster.
This hasn’t made the bottom-six of the Ducks terrible but they are incredibly inexperienced. Of the six forwards on the third and fourth lines, four had never played a regular season NHL game before this season and the other two have spent the majority of their careers in the AHL. Those two players – Brian Gibbons and Ben Street – are also both over 30 years old. This lack of experience has put the Ducks in both the bottom ten in league scoring (22nd) and faceoff percentage (29th). The hot start has diverted the attention from the Ducks biggest problems but is not sustainable with this many key players injured.
Gibson’s Continuing his growth
The biggest reason for the Ducks solid start to the season has been the stellar play of starting goalie John Gibson. Gibson may only have turned 25 this summer but has played like a veteran almost his entire career. This rings no less true over his first five starts. In Gibson’s first five starts this season he has posted a .944 save percentage, 2.07 goals against average, and one shutout against the Coyotes. His only slip up was in his last start against the Dallas Stars when he allowed four goals in the second period after being peppered for 44 shots. Ryan Miller would then start the third frame. Besides to the game against Dallas, Gibson hasn’t conceded more than two goals in a game despite being outshot in three of the four contests. Anaheim’s opponents have also doubled up on the Ducks in shots in three of Gibson’s starts.
Gibson’s start to the season is no fluke either. Since Gibson’s first year as a full-time NHLer his win totals, save percentage and games started have all increased every season. This also goes for his quality start percentage since 2015-16. The only thing holding Gibson back from more recognition is his success in the playoffs and that will come if the Ducks continue to win games. If Gibson continues to play the way he has started the season, he will undoubtedly receive some Vezina consideration.
When you combine, a struggling offence, a star goalie, and piling injuries, you can only expect to get mixed results. The Ducks are a good team but need to find a formula that will consistently keep them in the win collum. Relying on Gibson some nights will result in a couple victories but they cannot burn out the young netminder.
Anaheim’s special teams have been middle of the pack so far but one of the Ducks biggest strengths last season was their penalty kill. They would finish the year with the fifth-best penalty kill — a big reason for their third least goals against. This year they’ve dropped to 19th largely impart to the number of shots they’ve been withstanding. Defensive mindedness is still the moto this season but they need new goalscorers to step up or their mainstays to get healthy.
With the Pacific Division looking very muddled at this point in the season, the Ducks need to stay close to the top while their team recovers. Their next three games come against very beatable opponents and the Ducks need to capitalize on the favourable matchups before their lack of depth begins to catch up with them.
SAN JOSE, CA – APRIL 16: John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks defends the net against the San Jose Sharks in Game Three of the Western Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 16, 2018, in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner / NHL / Getty Images Sport)