As the final horn sounded on Tuesday evening, what remained of the 19,092 in attendance at Amalie Arena responded cheerfully to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6-1 drubbing of the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks—who have now allowed 6+ goals in five of their last six—exit the state of Florida with their tails between their legs after being swept in a southeast back-to-back by the Panthers and Lightning. They’ve also won just one game during this entire month.
Tuesday’s loss was simply a microcosm of the season for Anaheim, a campaign in which they currently sit bottom of the league and have a triple-digit negative goal differential. Which begs the question: Why are they so bad?
It starts in the defensive zone. You can’t create offense if you can’t even get out of your own zone. Time and time again the Ducks have had issues getting out of the defensive end, due to either a failed breakout or a turnover, normally leading to a prime scoring chance for the opposition.
One culprit is their inability to cleanly exit the defensive zone. Too many times they have been stuck in their own zone for too long, which leads to tired legs. The only option then becomes chipping the puck out and going for a change once you get out of the zone. As a result, the puck goes straight back to the opposition and the cycle (no pun intended) repeats.
When the puck stays in your own end, eventually it gets to the slot. The slot is the most opportune spot in the offensive zone to score from and the Ducks have had an issue keeping that area clear. Players get caught puck watching and letting their man slip into what is known as the “soft” spots on the ice, allowing for prime scoring opportunities.
They’ve also had trouble keeping the front of the net clear for whoever has been tending the goal, whether it’s John Gibson, Anthony Stolarz or Lukáš Dostál. Making sure your netminder can see the puck is pretty important. You can only save so much when you can’t see.
Stale Offensive Tactics
What the Ducks haven’t done right on the defensive end can be incorporated into what they’re doing wrong on the offensive end as well. Far too often, players have settled for low-percentage shots instead of taking an extra stride or two and creating a better opportunity.
Most of the defensemen have been guilty of this, content to let shots from the point fly with no traffic in front. The reliance on point shots has felt more like hoping for goals created by chaos rather than creating goal scoring opportunities with more efficient methods.
Speaking of, an emphasis on getting to the middle of the ice more often must be stressed as well, with players regularly keeping the puck on the outside and making it easy for defenders to keep Anaheim away from the high-danger scoring areas (like the slot).
As good as the Ducks are at generating offense off the rush, the game isn’t always played at light-speed pace. Being able to create goals by cycling the puck in the offensive zone is what tires out defenses, something Anaheim’s opponents have been quite good at. Establishing the forecheck and cycling the puck are two key elements of good offense, which the Ducks don’t have at the moment.
Some of these issues are a product of the personnel. With Troy Terry currently on the shelf, there’s very few individual playmakers on the team aside from Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish, who has adjusted well to the NHL in his first full season.
John Klingberg was brought in this past offseason with the idea that he could be a game-changer on the blue line, or at the least, an upgrade over those behind him on the depth chart. To say he’s been a disappointment would be an understatement and his time with Anaheim is likely close to an end with the trade deadline looming.
Not Enough Physicality
Let’s be clear—being physical does not mean you need to be big. Sure, the Ducks could use a little more size as well, but the fact of the matter is that too often they’re pushed around rather easily. One element that separates good and great teams in the playoffs is the ability to get under your opponent’s skin as much as possible. That’s exactly what the Columbus Blue Jackets did when they swept the Lightning in 2019.
Players like Max Jones, Simon Benoit and Nathan Beaulieu know how to throw their weight around. But, when they go out of their way to make big hits at the expense of putting themselves out of position, the risk outweighs the reward.
Others like Trevor Zegras and Frank Vatrano have played the role of “shit disturber”, a role that was commonly frequented by Corey Perry during his time with the Ducks. But Zegras and Vatrano are also on the smaller end when it comes to weighing out the average NHLer.
That’s not to say they can’t hold their own, but as we saw last season with Jay Beagle and Troy Terry, sometimes the team needs other players better suited for this kind of role.
Poor Special Teams
Below-average performance from the Ducks’ special teams units aren’t anything new. The power play has been subpar, finishing bottom-3 in three out of the last four seasons. It currently sits third-worst at 16.3%.
The penalty kill on the other hand had typically been an area of strength, but losing two of their stalwart blueliners in Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson via trade last season has sent the shorthanded unit into a downward spiral. At 72.9%, the Ducks currently have the fourth-worst penalty kill in the league.
More often than not, they have been able to hold their own at even strength. It’s their inability to convert on the man advantage and consistently kill off penalties which has done them in.
“The best way to kill penalties is to not have to kill them,” said head coach Dallas Eakins prior to their game last Wednesday against the Buffalo Sabres, who boast one of the best power plays in the league.
The Ducks only gave up one power play goal on five opportunities but their poor discipline was the reason why Buffalo even had five separate chances to score on the power play. The frequency of untimely penalties has really done the Ducks in. It’s a lot harder to create offense when you’re shorthanded time and time again.
How’s the Goaltending?
The guarantee for whoever has been in net this season for Anaheim has been: get ready to face shots—and lots of them. Just this month alone, John Gibson has already made 50+ saves on more than one occasion.
Lukáš Dostál has stopped 35+ shots in six of his seven starts. Though currently injured, Anthony Stolarz too has racked up seven starts with 35 or more saves.
Even with how superb the goaltending has been at times, they can only do so much. There have been multiple occasions when the Ducks have left their netminder out to dry and the number of games in which they’ve trailed by three or more goals continues to climb the further into the season we get.
There’s only further reconstruction to come prior to the March 3 trade deadline and it’s quite possible that we might be looking at the worst Ducks team (in terms of points percentage) in franchise history before our very eyes. If there’s one thing this team is good at, it’s being bad.