Who’s the best team in the NHL as we prepare to resume regular season play after the Olympic break? It’s not the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. It’s not the star-laden Pittsburgh Penguins, nor is it last year’s finalist and 2011 champ, the Boston Bruins. The best team in the NHL right now is in SoCal…only it’s not the 2012 Stanley Cup winner Los Angeles Kings either. No sports fans, the team with the most points in the NHL is the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
The Ducks won a Stanley Cup in 2007, but have otherwise been mostly off the grid in recent years. Their strong showing in the lockout-shortened year of 2013 ended with a disappointing first-round playoff exit. This year, they’re playing like a hungry team, as we approach another postseason.
Anaheim consistently wins the battle of shots on a nightly basis. They rank 8th in the NHL in both shots taken and shots allowed. When you combine this with the fact that their play in the standard 5-on-5 is much stronger than on the power play (for or against) and you understand why the Ducks’ game has a real consistency, and also why they don’t necessarily seem overwhelming on paper.
This is not to say there isn’t some serious talent in the Ducks’ lineup. Corey Perry is a solid scorer from the right wing, and with only 15 goals thus far, he’s more than capable of stepping up his game. Teemu Selanne is a reliable veteran at the same spot and fresh off scoring two goals for Finland in their bronze medal game victory over the United States at Sochi. Ryan Getzlaff anchors everything from the middle and is a superior passer.
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What Anaheim does not have is elite goaltending. Viktor Fasth was injured back in November and has yet to make it back. It’s a “lower-body” injury, as NHL injury reports tend to be vague enough that you think Bill Belichick must write them all. All we know right now is that Fasth is on a “long-term assignment” for rehab, which included starting a game in Norfolk last week.
Does “long-term” mean Fasth will be able to get a few games in at the end of the regular season and be ready for the postseason in mid-April? If Anaheim wants to win the Stanley Cup again, they have to hope so. Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen have been tolerable as fill-ins, but tolerable isn’t going to win you four postseason series in succession, especially not when goaltending takes on a greater importance in the playoffs.
Anaheim still deserves tremendous credit for navigating the loss of Fasth and producing the best record in the NHL. The offensive balance is a bit better than last year, when everything was even more dependent on Perry. Now the Ducks just need to get healthy in net and it could be a sunny spring in SoCal.