Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: The surprising Anaheim Ducks. Are they for real?
If not for the Chicago Blackhawks and their historic start to the season that has them laughably running over the rest of the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks might be getting a little more attention for having one of the best records in the league.
They enter Wednesday's game against Nashville with the third-best points percentage in the NHL (.794) thanks to a 13-3-1 record.
They're also one of the more fascinating teams in the league at this point.
They have a future Hall of Famer still producing at a high level at the age of 42 (Teemu Selanne) and one of the biggest surprises in 30-year-old goalie Viktor Fasth, who won his first eight starts in the NHL after dominating the Swedish Elite League the past few years.
For a team that's been mired in mediocrity for the past four years this is an exciting -- and perhaps unexpected -- start, even if there are some concerns (like the upcoming free agency of star forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and what the team will do with them leading up to the trade deadline).
But how much of their early-season success is for real, and should we be counting on the Ducks to hang around as a top contender in the West for the rest of the season?
The short answer is no, and here's the long explanation as to why.
I've watched a lot of their recent games, including the most recent one -- a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings -- and I kept having the same thought during all of them: For a team that's won a lot of games these guys have a lot of bounces going their way at the moment, and they sure do seem to get outplayed a lot only to have Fasth bail them out. What's going to happen to this team when he no longer stops 93 percent of the shots he faces?
A look at the numbers tends to back all of that up, and there seems to be the potential here for this house of cards to tip over at any moment. They do get outplayed in a lot of important situations, and a lot of things are falling in their favor at the moment, including the stunning play of Fasth in net.
The one thing that really stands out about the Ducks through their first 17 games is that they are riding some ridiculous percentages.
We've talked about percentages a lot this season and how they tend to regress back to a certain level when it comes to team and individual performance. Seasons are full of hot streaks and cold streaks, peaks and valleys, and they always have a way of balancing out over the course of a full season. Sometimes the breaks go your way, sometimes they don't. The best way to overcome that is through consistent control of the puck and giving yourself as many chances as possible to score (and at the same time preventing your opponent from scoring).
Remember early in the year when the Kings were at the bottom of the standings and getting crushed by unsustainably low percentages? Stanley Cup hangover, the masses screamed, despite the fact the Kings were still controlling the puck and generally outplaying their opponents. Well, those percentages started to balance out (as they always do) and the Kings are winning a lot of games again (six of their past seven, to be exact).
The exact opposite thing happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning and their fast start out of the gate. Their lack of puck control and reliance on scoring on 18 percent of their shots has caught up to them and they're now struggling to stay in the top eight in the Eastern Conference, losing nine of their past 12 games after starting 6-1 (goaltending hasn't helped them, either).
Frankly, the Ducks look to be the Western Conference's version of Tampa Bay. Or, if you recall back to last season, perhaps this year's version of the Minnesota Wild. (Remember that fast start? Best record in the league after 30 games, and then a whole lot of nothing.)
It could just be a matter of time until they hit their slump. And it could be ugly when it happens.
The biggest concern for the Ducks has to be how much trouble they have consistently generating shots. Overall they're averaging 27 shots per game (25th in the league) and are getting just 25.5 on net per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, a mark that currently has them 27th in the league, ahead of only New Jersey, Nashville and Columbus.
This is not encouraging. Sure, they're scoring a lot of goals right now, but it goes back to the percentages.
Anaheim is currently scoring on 12 percent of its shots this season (all situations), a number that should not be expected to continue by any person with reasonable expectations. Look at it this way: Since the start of the 2005-06 season only one team in the NHL scored on 12 percent of its shots over a full season, while only a small handful managed to finish higher than 11.
Most teams tend to finish in the same general area between seven and 10 percent.
This is why it's important to create as many shots as you can. Volume is the key.
The Ducks do not do this, and not only do they not generage a lot of their own, they're giving up a lot in key situations. That's a bad combination.
Sometimes overall shot totals don't always paint the best picture because a team that's always winning by a lot is going to give up more shots as it sits back and protects that lead than a team that's desperately trying to catch up and play from behind.
One way to cut through that is to look how teams generate shots when the score is tied.
BehindTheNet.ca tracks unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick percentages) based on the score of the game, including when it's tied. Currently the Ducks are the second-worst team in the league in that area (ahead of only Columbus), attempting just 43 percent of the shots in tied situations.
This means when the game is even, the Ducks are spending more time defending than they are attacking. Why is this important? Because when the game is tied teams are playing within their system and relying on their talent, skill, and system, while and the play on the ice isn't being dictated by the score. One team isn't purposely sitting back protecting a lead and trying to run out the clock.
But who cares, you're probably saying. The Ducks are still scoring goals, still winning games, and all of this is just noise that doesn't mean anything.
Except it does mean something.
FenTied usually does a pretty strong job predicting which teams make the playoffs and which do not. Over the past two seasons only five of the 32 playoff teams finished the regular season in the bottom 14 in terms of FenTied, and only four of them had a percentage lower than 50 percent. The Ducks, it should be pointed out once again, are currently at 43 percent.
They're still winning games because the percentages are in their favor. For now.
Cam Charron at NHL Numbers has been tracking team PDO during the season, and his most recent numbers show just how much the Ducks are benefiting from some crazy percentages. PDO is simply the sum of a team's even-strength shooting percentage and save percentage. Over the course of a season this number always falls (or climbs) closer to 1.000. A team that's way above it will fall. A team that's way below it will rise. It's a quick and easy way to get an idea for which team is due for a slump, and which team might be due for a hot streak.
The Ducks PDO is currently 1.052, which means they're probably long overdue for a regression. It's coming, and again, it could be ugly. Over the past five years only six teams managed to finish with a PDO higher than 1.020. Only one (the 2009-10 Capitals) was above 1.030.
I'm confident in saying they're not going to keep scoring on 12 percent of their shots for the entire season (and they don't consistently take enough shots to make up for it), and Fasth isn't going to keep stopping 93 percent of the shots he faces.
That means fewer goals for, more goals against, and in the end, more losses.
Are they still a playoff team? They should be. They had a fast enough start to give themselves some cushion, and they have a six-point lead over the No. 9 team and have games in hand on most of the conference. And with a short season they only have to hold on to that playoff position for another 31 games.
But they're not cup contenders.