The Pacific is probably the most equal of all the divisions this year. Ergo, there really isn’t much difference between the division winners, the cartoon heroes in Anaheim, and the still-rebuilding Calgary Flames.
This will be fun, if for no other reason than the Ducks might bring the goon squad out in retaliation for Mark Giordano’s knee-on-knee collision with Cam Fowler, which sees the young D out for 2-6 weeks. If both teams can get past that and play some hockey, it’d be lovely. If not, well, the purists will enjoy it.
|Western Conference Round One|
|Calgary Flames||Vs||Anaheim Ducks|
|1st Wildcard||Seeding||1st Pacific|
11 points separate the two, but only one win – Anaheim’s 13 overtime/shootout losses really saw them over the line in the Pacific, considering Edmonton had more wins, and San Jose had more ROW.
These are not two high-scoring sides. Only three sides who are in the playoffs scored less goals than the Flames to get there – San Jose, Ottawa, and their opponents here. But on the other hand, only Columbus and Washington have conceded less than the Ducks.
|Record versus opponent|
We all know about “the curse” – the Flames seemingly cannot win in the Ponda Center (I’m not changing that), and haven’t for 13 years in regular season play. Not sure if it’s a mental thing, or that the Ducks really have their number, but streaks are made to be broken, and what better time to break it than now?
A weird 8-3 demolition aside, the Ducks have had the Flames’ number all year, and lead in playoff victories too – winning in seven back in 2006, and then a 4-1 drubbing in 2015.
|Sean Monahan||27||Goals||33||Rickard Rakell|
|Johnny Gaudreau||43||Assists||58||Ryan Getzlaf|
|Johnny Gaudreau||61||Points||73||Ryan Getzlaf|
|Dougie Hamilton||222||Shots||227||Jakob Silfverberg|
|Troy Brouwer||15.1||Shot %||20.0||Patrick Eaves|
Rickard Rakell has turned into an elite scorer this year, and has been well backed up by Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler, but they are the only three Ducks to break 20 – nine players have double digits. They have five players who have broken 40 points, and 17 who have 10+, although only nine who are above 25.
The Flames have 12 players who have reached 25 or higher, and six players who are 40+, but haven’t had the elite scoring of a Rakell – Sean Monahan had a long cold streak, while Johnny Gaudreau suffered from a lack of pre-season to begin with, then dealing with a broken finger. The form of the 3M line has really dragged the Flames into the playoffs, with 52 goals coming from Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik and Matthew Tkachuk. Oh, don’t worry, we’ll get into them some more.
|Even Strength Team Possession|
|Unadjusted Possession Leaders (ES, min 200 minutes)|
|Calgary||Dougie Hamilton (55.48)||Matthew Tkachuk (55.91)||Dougie Hamilton (55.54)||Matthew Tkachuk (55.76)|
|Anaheim||Hampus Lindholm (53.56)||Andrew Cogliano (54.04)||Hampus Lindholm (54.26)||Patrick Eaves (54.81)|
Told you I’d mention 3M. Tkachuk, along with Frolik and Backlund, lead the Flames forwards in possession stats and it is not even close. Only Alex Chiasson and Johnny Gaudreau amongst their other forwards are positive possession players, and the lowest of 3M, Backlund, is 3% better than them. As a line, they have a CF% of 57.49 and a FF% of 57.75 – while usually starting in their own end (only 22% of their starts have been in the opposition’s zone). They are dominant.
Add in the fact that Hamilton, along with his partner Mark Giordano, are the only defenders with positive possession, and you have a reliance on five players to drive play. Oh, and the genius of Gaudreau, and the sneaky hands of Sean Monahan.
Anaheim, on the other hand, have 12 positive possession players – two-thirds of an on-ice team. There are weak links (hi, Nate Thompson), but they are undoubtedly the better possession side.
|Power Play||Penalty Kill|
|PPG For||SHG Against||PPG Against||SHG For|
A top ten power play meets a top five penalty kill. A slightly below average power play meets a slightly above average penalty kill. If the rough stuff comes out, expect the special teams to be important, and depending on who it is that takes the penalties, it could be the difference come the end of the series.
|Brian Elliott||Chad Johnson||John Gibson||Jonathan Bernier|
|All Sits Sv%||90.97||91.02||92.42||91.55|
|All Sits HDSv%||77.74||80.33||81.60||80.09|
There’s no doubting that John Gibson is going to be scary good. He’s already top-end in the league, and he’s only going to get better. Add to that Jonathan Bernier’s steadiness as a back-up, and there’s a really good tandem in Anaheim.
Brian Elliott’s numbers have been dragged down due to what was an awful start to the year. The Flames really relied on Chad Johnson during November to drag this team anywhere near relevant, and off the back of that, Elliott started to rebound. From the start of the season to New Year’s Eve, he had a 5v5 Sv% of 90.66. Since the turn of the year he has a 92.93 Sv% at 5v5, and sits at 91.93% for all situations.
And because there aren’t enough Johns, Johnsons and Jonathans in this situation, Chad Johnson has missed the last couple of games through injury, meaning Jon Gillies will likely be the backup for at least game one.
How much do you value a non-existent magical curse?
If the Flames go into California with the streak in the back of their mind, they’ll go down easily. If they go in expecting pugilism and pandering to old narratives, they’ll go down easily.
If they ignore that, and play their game around the Ducks, they stand a hell of a chance. Forget the 11 point gap, the Ducks are only one win better than the Flames this year. This is going to be closer than many people think.
Awaiting the winner could be a potential Battle of Alberta, or a potential Battle of California. Or neither, because hockey doesn’t want you to have nice things.