With the Panthers and Ducks on opposite coasts and in separate conferences, we don't get a lot of Anaheim news down here. What gives with the slow start? Is it simply matter of 14 goals for in 11 games or is there more to the story?
It's hard to win games when you don't score goals, and getting nothing from Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler thus far is a big deal. Getzlaf had been playing through appendicitis since training camp began, and returned to Anaheim during the last road trip to undergo surgery. He appeared physically diminished in his first eight games, so the hope is with that taken care of he can return to form. Another point that hasn't helped the offense is that the four entirely new forwards (Carl Hagelin, Chris Stewart, Mike Santorelli, Shawn Horcoff) were regularly being juggled through the lineup, as head coach Bruce Boudreau is wont to do when the team is losing, so developing offensive cohesion as a team has been a bit of an issue.
An underlying story that we've written about fairly regularly has been the drop off in defensive play as well. Kevin Bieksa has not had a smooth integration with Hampus Lindholm as part of the team's top-minute defense pair. The unit as a whole has been allowing a greater number of scoring chances, as well as high danger scoring chances, than in recent seasons. Folks point to a more passive defensive system this season that has the forwards playing higher in the zone and opening up the slot more- teams have been taking advantage of it, getting a higher percentage of shots from that area than in seasons past. It also hasn't helped dealing with injuries to second pair stalwart Simon Despres, and organizationally well thought of rookie Josh Manson.
How are goaltenders Frederik Andersen and Anton Khudobin holding up under the pressure of having little to no goal support on a nightly basis.
After spending all summer hearing questions about his ability, Andersen has been the best player for Anaheim in the opening month of the season. Last year he played 54 regular season and 16 playoff games; the regular season games alone were more than he'd played in any one single season at any level before. With another offseason to physically condition himself for the long haul, he's been fantastic out of the gate. Andersen's play has kept the Ducks in games and cleaned up defensive issues; if he can continue to play near this level when the goals start coming Anaheim will be in fine shape. Khudobin earned the team's first win, but his most recent appearance at Nashville on October 22 didn't inspire much confidence facing a barrage of high-quality chances. Still, as the team tightens things up defensively and gets the offense going, he should settle in fine to his backup role.
I know there are still 71 games left, but can't help wondering if the Ducks may have dug themselves too big of an early hole to get out of in the stacked Western Conference. Has panic set in among the fan base or is the sense that the ship will be righted soon and a postseason spot eventually secured?
The one thing working in Anaheim's favor is that the Pacific is much less competitive in the early-going than the Central, and despite the poor start the Ducks are only 6 points back (as of 11/3) of the final guaranteed playoff spot in the division. There's a portion of the fan base that has been sounding the alarm, pointing to the 97 points it took to make the playoffs last season and flailing their arms about it. However with the team "looking better" over the past four games, including getting the win against Nashville on Sunday, folks seem to be in line with what general manager Bob Murray released in a statement recently, having patience as the team shakes off slows starts from nearly all of the skaters.
Anaheim has a history of going on runs late to make the playoffs; we have a piece up detailing how in 1996-97 (the first season the Mighty Ducks qualified) Anaheim overcame a 1-9-2 start to not only make the playoffs, but to capture home ice in the first round as the #4 seed. The team made late charges in 05-06, 08-09, and 10-11 to make the playoffs as well, so it's not completely out of the DNA of the franchise to start slow but heat up as the season progresses and play back in to playoff seeding.
We'd like to thank Eric for stopping by the Litter Box to chat with us. Give him a follow on twitter at @EricThe Hawk and check out Anaheim Calling for more Cats - Ducks pregame goodies, including JC's answers to a handful of Panther-related questions.