The Anaheim Ducks defeated the Boston Bruins 5-2 on Tuesday night and still haven’t lost in regulation on home ice.
It was a statement victory for the Ducks against one of the NHL’s premier teams, and it moved them ahead of the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks for the best record in the NHL with 69 points.
“It shows we can play with anybody,” Ducks forward Mathieu Perreault said when asked about the win over Boston. “Even when we play the better teams in the league, we’re able to stand up and win games. It feels like we find ways to win games no matter what.”
If you haven’t paid attention to the Ducks, it’s time to start, because they likely will be one of the two teams left standing in June for the Stanley Cup Final.
The most impressive aspect of the Ducks is their historic success at Honda Center, and if they earn home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, it’ll be difficult for opposing contenders to eliminate them in a seven-game playoff series.
Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) January 08, 2014
The analysis of the Ducks’ impressive success begins with their top two stars — center Ryan Getzlaf and winger Corey Perry, who rank first and second on the team in scoring with 49 and 46 points, respectively.
Getzlaf, who also serves as captain, arguably is the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. The 28-year-old forward does everything. He’s a great playmaker, his defense is phenomenal and he’s on pace to shatter his career high of 25 goals (20 goals through 42 games). Getzlaf’s chemistry with Perry is fantastic, and it’s no surprise that they both rank among the top five in scoring at even strength.
But a team doesn’t tally the third most goals in the league without secondary scoring. Anaheim has received strong contributions from depth forwards such as Andrew Cogliano (27 points), Nick Bonino (32 points), Dustin Penner (24 points) and Perreault (21 points).
The last three Stanley Cup winners had four quality lines that could provide offense at any time, and the Ducks also have this luxury, even with top prospects Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly not yet filling permanent roles at the NHL level.
As for the Ducks’ blue line, it’s hard to find a deeper, more talented group of defensemen around the league. It features young players (Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm) and experienced veterans (Francois Beauchemin, Mark Fistric, Ben Lovejoy).
Lindholm has been one of the NHL’s best rookies this season, but like Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin last year, he’s not receiving enough Calder Trophy buzz because he’s a defenseman who plays in a small market and doesn’t put up insane scoring totals. The former sixth overall draft pick leads the Ducks with a plus-22 rating, which is second-highest in the league, and he’s capable of excelling in any situation, which is rare for a 19-year-old D-man.
Thanks to the stellar play of these blueliners, Anaheim has the league’s highest goal differential (+44), the best goals for percentage at 63.6 percent and the seventh-fewest shots allowed (564), and ranks in the top third of the league in hits and blocked shots. The Ducks have attempted 85 more shots than their opponents, which gives them the league’s fourth best shots for percentage (53.5).
One area of weakness is the lack of an elite, shutdown defenseman who’s capable of logging major minutes against opposing teams’ top forwards and excelling on the penalty kill. Luckily for general manager Bob Murray, the team has plenty of quality assets that can be dangled at the trade deadline in search of this player, including an extra 2014 first-round draft pick acquired from the Ottawa Senators in last summer’s Bobby Ryan deal. One guy who’d be perfect for this role is the New York Rangers’ Dan Girardi, whom the Ducks reportedly are interested in, per CBC’s Elliotte Friedman.
The most encouraging aspect of this team for Ducks fans has been the consistently strong goaltending, highlighted by veteran Jonas Hiller. The 31-year-old netminder, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the summer, became the first goalie since Martin Brodeur in 1997 to win 12 straight games with his 5-2 victory over Boston. He’s a major reason why Anaheim ranks eighth in goals against average despite having the 18th-best penalty kill. When backup Viktor Fasth, who has missed a good chunk of the season, returns from his lower body injury, the Ducks will have one of the league’s top goaltending tandems.
The Ducks are motivated after a disappointing first-round playoff loss last season to the Detroit Red Wings, who won Game 7 at Honda Center. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006-07, Anaheim has reached the playoffs four times in six seasons — but with three first-round exits.
There’s an immense amount of pressure on the Ducks to make a deep playoff run, and based on the team’s talent, depth and success in the first half of the regular season, it would be a gigantic surprise if Anaheim fails to reach at least the Western Conference Final.
The Ducks are the Stanley Cup favorites at the midway point of 2013-14.
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