Monday, October 26, 2015

Weekend wrap: Lame Ducks

A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.

Theme of the Week: Lame Ducks

Three weeks into the season, the bottom of the league standings is starting to feel familiar. We’ve covered the stunning collapse of the Blue Jackets, but most of the other teams are the ones we’re used to seeing. The Sabres are there. So are the Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes, and the Oilers aren’t far off.

But mixed in with those bottom-feeders is one team that wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near this territory, and it’s the team that has the league buzzing right now. That would be the Anaheim Ducks, the preseason Pacific Division favorites and Stanley Cup contenders who’ve stumbled out of the gate; at 1-5-1, they’re looking up at everyone other than the Jackets.

A bad start is a concern for any team, but the Ducks’ problems go well beyond wins and losses. Somehow, a team built around Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry can’t score. Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Wild marked the fourth time in seven games the Ducks have been shut out. They’ve managed just six goals this season, with four coming in their only win. Other than that one game, the offense has been all but nonexistent.

When you see numbers that extreme, you’re almost always going to be dealing with some crazy percentages, and that’s exactly what we see in Anaheim. A team that has shot over 8 percent at even strength in each of the last four seasons (including a league-leading 9.6 percent in 2013-14) currently sits at just 2.5 percent. That’s not just unsustainable, it’s borderline ridiculous. With all the talent the Ducks have up front, the goals are going to come. Probably a lot of them, and probably soon. The wins will follow.

The question now is whether they’ll come soon enough to save Bruce Boudreau. Last week, we figured Boudreau’s seat was feeling decidedly warm; two more low-scoring losses later, it’s downright sizzling. I still think a coaching change would be a mistake, an overreaction to a slump that’s been largely driven by a big dose of short-term bad luck. But the Ducks are a team built to win now, and that’s not a scenario that typically results in a patient approach. If Boudreau does go, the Ducks won’t be lacking in experienced candidates to replace him. They could turn the reins over to assistant Paul MacLean, AHL coach Dallas Eakins, or even the man Boudreau replaced in 2011, Randy Carlyle.

That’s looking ahead, but maybe not all that far ahead. Things don’t get any easier this week: The Ducks are in Chicago tonight and follow that with trips to Dallas and St. Louis before returning home to face Nashville.

Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best

The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.

5. Winnipeg Jets (5-2-1, plus-7 goals differential) A tough call, but they slip into the final spot on the strength of last night’s big win over the Wild.

4. Dallas Stars (6-2-0, plus-6) An impressive five-game winning streak ended with a thud against the Panthers on Saturday.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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