Over one-third of the Canucks games this season will be against Pacific Division opponents. Accordingly, how the Canucks play against their rivals within the Pacific will play a large role in where they finish in the standings.
Since we’re going to seeing so much of the Pacific Division teams, it seemed appropriate to take a moment to preview each of those teams and see how they stack up against the Canucks in several key areas.
This will probably be painful, so I’ve labeled this brief series the Pacific Division Preview of Pain.
We’ll go in alphabetical order by city. First up: the Anaheim Ducks.
OFFENCE The Canucks have one significant advantage over the Ducks at forward: the Canucks are healthy to start the season.
With Ryan Kesler already expected to be out for most, if not all, of the 2018-19 season, the Ducks were dealt another blow when Corey Perry had knee surgery that is expected to keep him out of the lineup for five months. That’s two significant members of the Ducks’ top-six out for a significant portion of the season.
Compared to the Canucks, however, the Ducks still have the edge. Rickard Rakell led the Ducks in scoring last season with 34 goals and 69 points, while Ryan Getzlaf had 61 points in just 56 games. Adam Henrique can step in to centre the second line in place of Kesler, and Jakob Silfverberg and Ondrej Kase should be good for at least 20 goals and 40 points each.
Along with their top-end talent at forward, the Ducks have defence that can chip in offensively: Josh Manson, Brandon Montour, Cam Fowler, and Hampus Lindholm all had over 30 points last season.
DEFENCE The four defencemen mentioned above — Manson, Montour, Fowler, and Lindholm — form one of the best top-four defence corps in the Pacific Division. Their new third pairing of Luke Schenn and Andrej Sustr, however, leaves something to be desired.
Lindholm is arguably a top-ten defenceman in the NHL — he ranked tenth in Goals Above Replacement (GAR) according to Evolving Hockey https://www.evolving-hockey.com/ — and his pairing with Manson is dominant. Fowler and Montour are less effective defensively, but still capable of producing points. You could argue that either pairing is top-pairing caliber.
That puts the Ducks well ahead of the Canucks, who essentially have no top pairing and two second pairings.
GOALTENDING This isn’t going to be a fair fight.
John Gibson was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL last season, finishing with a stellar .926 save percentage. By Evolving Hockey’s GAR, https://www.evolving-hockey.com/ Gibson was the most valuable goaltender in the NHL and he was third in Corsica’s Goals Saved Above Average statistics. http://corsica.hockey/goalie-stats/
Behind Gibson, the Ducks have Ryan Miller, who was arguably the best backup in the NHL last season. He also finished the season with a .926 save percentage.
Goaltending can be volatile, and there’s no guarantee Gibson and Miller will be as good in the coming season as they were last season, but they are a much safer bet than Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson.
SPECIAL TEAMS The Ducks’ penalty kill is a major strength, with Gibson being a big reason why. He’s been fantastic shorthanded, with an outstanding .916 save percentage on the penalty kill last season. That’s also a cause for concern, as shorthanded save percentage isn’t normally repeatable, but he’s been able to keep it up for several seasons now.
The power play is another story. They have a collection of players that should be able to produce with the man advantage, but they had the 23rd ranked power play last season.
The Canucks’ penalty kill was worse than the Ducks last season, but their power play was better. With the Sedins gone, that could change, but the Canucks still have the right pieces to put together a strong power play. For now, we’ll call this a wash.
OVERALL The one major issue for the Ducks is depth surrounding their top-tier talent. Outside their top-six forwards, there are a lot of question marks, and the same is true outside their top-four on defence. If their goaltending falters and too many more injuries strike, they could be in trouble.
Still, they’ve had five straight seasons over 100 points and it’s hard to bet against them. They may not reach 100 points, but they should be solidly in the playoff picture by the end of the season.