The Anaheim Ducks are the best team in the National Hockey League. With a 25-9-6 record going into Sunday night, they’re two points up on the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning and three points up on the Nashville Predators, New York Islanders (!!!) and Pittsburgh Penguins.
While they’re not exactly running away with the league lead, the Ducks are indeed topping things out in the standings. A closer look reveals that it’s the intangibles, not statistical dominance, that’s getting things done in Anaheim.
Consider that the Chicago Blackhawks are the best defensive club in the NHL. They’re four points back of the Ducks, but they’ve only allowed 81 goals against. The next stingiest team is in Nashville, with 84 goals against. After that, things lift off considerably.
Or consider that Tampa is running away with scoring goals. They have 134, while the Toronto Maple Leafs are second with 130. Tampa has allowed 108 goals against, however.
Now here’s the kicker: the Ducks have scored 111 goals and have allowed 107. That’s a plus-four goal differential, the second worst among playoff teams.
So how are they winning?
The secret may be held in their 19-0-6 record in one-goal games, which seems to account for the lion’s share of their victories. They may not deserve these victories in the traditional sense, but they get the wins and that’s all that matters. When games are close, it’s probably wise to bet on the Ducks. And believe me, games have been close for the Ducks an awful lot this season.
Anaheim also has a road record that’s awfully close to their home record, which means they’re finding ways to seal the deal everywhere. And they’re getting goals from everyone, too.
Ryan Getzlaf, recently named the first star of the month of December, has led all players with 20 points in the month. He had at least one point in 12 of Anaheim’s 14 games in the month. Ducks forward Ryan Kesler has also made the club more formidable from a defensive standpoint, which helps eke out those close wins, and goalie Frederik Andersen has been solid.
So the Ducks are finding ways to win hockey games. They’re finding ways to pull out close victories and it’s been working for them thus far, but will it last? That’s hard to say. Anaheim hasn’t exactly been wiping the floor with the opposition this season, but they’re a silent but deadly force and one of the most solid clubs in the league. Don’t be surprised if the Ducks wind up taking it all come Cup time.