Super 16: Ducks' poor start; Stars fall from No. 1

Friday, 12.18.2015 / 3:00 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

The Anaheim Ducks were a trendy preseason pick to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final, including on this website.

Five of the nine NHL.com staffers who were asked to give preseason predictions had the Ducks in the Cup Final; two had them as champs. They were No. 2 in the preseason Super 16.

Anaheim is last in the Western Conference. Should the prognosticators have seen this coming, or should the Ducks be better? The answer to each question is yes.

Here's why:

Last season, the Ducks were tied for second in wins (51), third in regulation/overtime wins (43), and tied for third in points (109) without the statistics to back it up.

They were 28th on the power play (15.7 percent), 20th in goals-against (2.70 per game), tied for 20th in 5-on-5 save percentage (.919), 16th in shot-attempts percentage (51.21), 15th on the penalty kill (81.0 percent) and 11th in goals (2.78 per game).

The Ducks' record was so good because they were the best comeback team in the League. Their 18 wins when trailing at any point in the third period set an NHL record. They tied a League record with 12 wins when trailing entering the third period. In addition, the Ducks went 33-1-7 in one-goal games, setting an NHL record for most wins in one-goal games.

Those are extraordinary and unsustainable statistics because of the difficulty of coming back in the League nowadays. On average, teams won 12.3 percent of the time when they trailed after two periods last season. The Ducks won 34.3 percent of such games (12-23-0).

Lopsided stats such as that portend bad things ahead when you can't back them up by being in the top 10 in the other major statistical categories. That is exactly what has happened, and it's a major reason for the Ducks' struggles this season.

Entering Thursday, the Ducks had won 14.3 percent of games they trailed after two periods (2-11-1), and they were 4-4-5 in one-goal games.

It hurts that the Ducks were scoring 1.9 goals per game, which is directly related to their horrid shooting percentage (6.4 percent). They will start scoring more and likely winning more if they raise their shooting percentage to the NHL average of 8.9 percent.

That's why they should be better. How much better is debatable.

Anaheim was a trendy preseason pick based on momentum gained last season. The problem is the stats prove the Ducks weren't as good as their record indicated. Without great success late in games leading to one-goal victories, they're feeling the burn of that now.

Four more playoff teams from last season face the same question: Should they be better?

Tampa Bay Lightning (16-13-3)

Answer: Yes

Reasons they're not better: Injuries and scoring problems are to blame. Steven Stamkos hasn't scored in the past 10 games. But they've played 19 one-goal games and won 10 of them. With their defense and goaltending, they should take off if they get healthy and Stamkos starts scoring.

Pittsburgh Penguins (15-12-3)

Answer: Not yet

Reasons they're not better: A conservative system under former coach Mike Johnston hurt their offensive instincts. They're trying to get them back under coach Mike Sullivan, but it's been a struggle. Their power play doesn't have a true point man, and their defense is lacking in experience and depth.

Calgary Flames (14-14-2)

Answer: Potentially

Reasons they're not better: They had a League-best plus-36 goal differential after the second period (108-72) last season. Entering Thursday, they were minus-11 (30-41). Goaltending is still a concern, but scoring is not. That's a reason for optimism.

Vancouver Canucks (11-13-8)

Answer: No

Reasons they're not better: They're lacking in secondary scoring and depth at center. They don't have a No. 1 defenseman; arguably, there's not a No. 2 either. They're playing from behind too often and don't have enough depth to come back. Their goaltending has been suspect. They're not good in overtime (0-7).

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the focus will be more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail?

All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday:

1. Washington Capitals (22-6-2)

Last week: No. 2

Good: Consistency. They haven't lost two games in a row.

Not so good: Defenseman Brooks Orpik might have had a setback in his recovery from a lower-body injury. He is no longer skating with the team after initially progressing to that level.

2. Dallas Stars (23-6-2)

Last week: No. 1

Good: They could win 5-1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets despite coach Lindy Ruff saying he was frustrated in how they played. They haven't lost consecutive games this season either.

Not so good: The power play was 2-for-27 in their previous eight games before Thursday.

3. Los Angeles Kings (19-9-2)

Last week: No. 3

Good: Entering Thursday, Anze Kopitar had 12 points in the past 12 games after he had seven in the first 18.

Not so good: Jeff Carter had two goals in the previous 11 games after scoring nine in the first 19.

4. New York Islanders (18-9-5)

Last week: No. 7

Good: Backup goalie Thomas Greiss entered his start Thursday with a 4-0-0 record and six goals allowed in his previous four starts.

Not so good: No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak has allowed 12 goals in his past four starts.

5. Chicago Blackhawks (17-11-4)

Last week: No. 5

Good: They scored the first goal in 20 of their 32 games entering Thursday.

Not so good: They were minus-1 in first-period goal differential (27-28).

6. Minnesota Wild (16-7-6)

Last week: No. 9

Good: They had at least a point in eight straight games entering Thursday (5-0-3) and hadn't given up more than two goals in seven straight.

Not so good: Center Erik Haula, expected to be a contributing bottom-six center, has struggled to the point where he was scratched Thursday so Jarret Stoll could make his Wild debut.

7. St. Louis Blues (18-10-4)

Last week: No. 6

Good: They're the only team to shut out the high-scoring Stars this season.

Not so good: They've been inconsistent this month despite a home-heavy schedule.

8. Montreal Canadiens (20-9-3)

Last week: No. 4

Good: Nathan Beaulieu is starting to look like a young defenseman ready to take the next step.

Not so good: Goalies Dustin Tokarski and Mike Condon have generally struggled.

9. Boston Bruins (17-9-4)

Last week: No. 11

Good: Goalie Tuukka Rask is 7-0-2 with a .954 save percentage in his past nine appearances after going 5-7-1 with a .890 save percentage in his first 13 appearances.

Not so good: Backup Jonas Gustavsson has allowed three goals in each of his past three appearances.

10. New York Rangers (19-9-4)

Last week: No. 8

Good: Center Derek Stepan (ribs) and defenseman Kevin Klein (oblique) are close to returning.

Not so good: Not only has Dan Girardi struggled with defensive-zone lapses this season, he's out of the lineup with a knee injury.

11. Detroit Red Wings (16-9-6)

Last week: No. 12

Good: Their power play is 24.3 percent in 12 road games (9-for-37).

Not so good: It's just 14.5 percent in 19 home games (9-for-62).

12. Tampa Bay Lightning (16-13-3)

Last week: No. 16

Good: They've won five games in December after winning six in November and five in October.

Not so good: Stamkos is ice cold.

13. Nashville Predators (15-10-6)

Last week: No. 14

Good: They had 30 or more shots on goal in 18 of 31 games entering Thursday.

Not so good: They were 6-7-5 in those games.

14. Ottawa Senators (16-11-5)

Last week: No. 10

Good: Goalie Andrew Hammond returned after missing 15 games with a concussion. It should give relief to Craig Anderson, who played in all 15 games Hammond missed.

Not so good: They've allowed the first goal in a League-high 21 games, including seven straight.

15. New Jersey Devils (16-11-4)

Last week: No. 15

Good: Center Travis Zajac, who has missed seven straight games with an upper-body injury, could play Saturday.

Not so good: Entering Thursday, they had scored three or more goals in five of their past 11 games after doing it nine times in 12 games from Oct. 20-Nov. 14.

16. Florida Panthers (15-12-4)

Last week: NR

Good: After a slow start offensively (three points in his first 14 games), defenseman Aaron Ekblad had 12 points in his previous 17 games before Thursday.

Not so good: Center Nick Bjugstad, initially expected to miss two games, has missed nine straight and is out indefinitely.

Out: Pittsburgh Penguins

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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