Within a small space of time, the Anaheim Ducks became the first team to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This is not an undeserved achievement either. While Calgary can attest that they were winning the shot attempt battle all series long (score-adjusted to 195.6-191.3 at even strength), Anaheim can counter by saying they won the shot quality battle thanks to a series-wide 12.9-12.6 scoreline in all-situations score-adjusted expected goals according to corsica.hockey. When you compare that to the actual goal count of 14-9, it doesn’t look completely far off.
If you still want to complain about back puck luck from the Flames point of view, you have to look at what were the end results at even strength. With a shocking scoreline of 9-2 in even strength goals, it was right here where the Ducks won the series comfortably. Not only did the Flames struggle mightily to convert their chances at five-a-side, but the team’s poor goaltending rear it’s ugly head at the worst time. This was especially true in Game three when Anaheim overcame a 4-1 deficit and picking up the 5-4 win in overtime. Every one of those five goals came at even strength and it forced head coach Glen Gulutzan to make a change in net from Brian Elliot to Chad Johnson in the season-ending Game 4.
Before the All-Star break this regular season, Elliot was abysmal with a 9-12-2 record and an 89.2% save percentage. Since then, it looked like he turned it around thanks to a 17-6-1 record and a 92.4% save percentage. Still, ominous signs were there when Elliot finished the regular season playing four of his last five games with a save percentage less than 90%. Meanwhile, Johnson played 30 of his 36 games before the All-Star break and was still only a league average back-up during that time period.
Struggling to find stability in net has now become a long term issue in Calgary. Not since Miika Kiprusoff was in the prime of his career has that fan-base felt confident with who they had in that department. Previously, inexperienced players like Joey McDonald, Joni Ortio, Reto Berra and Karri Ramo tried their luck and it did not work out. Now, veterans like Elliot, Johnson and Jonas Hiller are proving to be colossal failures as well. You would have to think that Glen Gulutzan will replace goaltender coach Jordan Sigalet as he was a part of previous Flames regimes for the last four years.
Until then, other issues to resolve for Gulutzan and general manager Brad Treliving are trying to figure out what they should do with Troy Brouwer and his massive mistake of a contract. The former Capital played the entire series on Calgary’s fourth line and saw his time on ice plummet to only 14 minutes a night during the postseason. With Michael Ferland becoming the third forward on the Flames top line, you just know how much the pieces weren’t completely fitting up front. Also, the Flames will have to build on their defense with positive puck possession players and not on hit and block shot first dynamos like Derek Engelland and Michael Stone. They need to look at players like Dougie Hamilton as the rule rather than the exception and if I was in Treliving’s ear, would seriously pursue the hometown kid Mike Green in the summer or at trade deadline if Calgary wants to contend next year.
Until then, it’s time to celebrate Anaheim’s success as they move on further into the postseason. They did not, however, complete their sweep without a hint of flaws to their game. For one, the Ryan Kesler line and the top defense-pair of Brandon Montour and Hampus Lindholm were pelted by the Sean Monahan top line. Still, their ability to play top minutes against them was able to free up the rest of the Ducks skaters to feast upon the Flames’ weaker line combinations. None of these players took advantage of these match-ups better than Nate Thompson.
The 31-year old has missed all but 79 games in the last two years due to various ailments (specifically his shoulder and his achilles), but even at his healthiest, he is mostly known as a negative possession player that can put in the timely goal here or there. His best season in 2010-11 (25 points in 79 games, 55.0% on-ice xGF%, 1.5 point shares) seems more like an anomaly compared to the rest of his career. During these playoffs, it looked like he has rekindled that dream season with two goals, two assists and a 56.0% score-adjusted on-ice shot attempt ratio with every data point coming from even strength.
With Edmonton or San Jose coming up next, it will be more imperative for the rest of the Ducks to attack the non-top lines while the Kesler line regroups. It would also help to see Cam Fowler recuperate from the knee injury he picked up at the tail end of the regular season. He skated for the first time on the ice last Monday and any additional time he can have to return to full health without any pressure of future games can only be good for now the freshest playoff team standing.