The Ducks enter the half way point of the season with a record of 28-8-5, and their 61 points tie them with Chicago for the top spot in the entire NHL (with Chicago winning tonight, they now sit 2nd overall, but at the 41 game mark, the 2 teams were tied in points). The Ducks currently hold a 5 point lead in the Pacific Division over the Sharks, and the Kings are 2 points back of them. At 20 games above .500, the Ducks have set themselves up nicely for the 2nd half of the season. The Ducks have played a league high 25 road games (where the team is 14-8-3) and their 16 home games are tied for the fewest home games with Phoenix (where the team is 14-0-2). In order to review the 1st half of the season, I thought it would be fun to go through the NHL Awards and name each Ducks player who had earned it for the team so far this season. And after that, just briefly touch on why the Ducks have had such a good 1st half of the regular season.
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No question, the Hart Trophy for MVP of the Ducks through the 1st half of the season goes to Ryan Getzlaf. He leads the team 44 points (19 goals and 25 assists) and has been a dominant force on the ice. Countless times this season he has put his head down and just skated through the opposition. The best example of this was the game against the Lightning where he scored the gamewinning goal with just a few seconds left in overtime. He took the puck from the Ducks zone and skated ahead into Tampa's and pushed his way through multiple Lightning players, shot the puck, and then crashed the net and scored on the rebound. That play just sums up the type of season that he has had so far. Strong on the puck and never giving up on the play. Not only has he been the Ducks best player, but he has been mentioned as a potential Hart Trophy candidate if his play continues.
The Vezina Trophy is also a no brainer and it goes to Jonas Hiller. He has played in 26 of the Ducks 41 games and won 17 of them, losing only 4 times in regulation. He has faced 716 shots and stopped 654 of them for a save percentage of .913. His goals against average is 2.39 and he has posted 2 shutouts this season. While it's possible that this is his final season in Anaheim, he is putting up some strong numbers, especially in December and is currently riding a personal 8 game winning streak. Frederik Andersen has played very well, but he has simply not played very much lately because of how good Hiller has been. And Viktor Fasth has missed too much time with injury this season to be in consideration for this award.
The Calder Trophy for best rookie is another easy one, and it goes to Hampus Lindholm. After being scratched for the 1st 2 games of the season, he has only sat out 1 game since and been excellent for the Ducks. He has found the back of the net 3 times and assisted on 10 goals and leads the team in +/- with a +20 rating. And while +/- is a flawed stat, a +20 rating for a rookie defenseman is really impressive. Not only does he lead the team, but he is tied for 3rd in the league in +/- and leads all rookies in that category. He is averaging almost 20 minutes a night and has looked really good for the Ducks this season.
The James Norris Memorial Trophy for best defenseman is a little trickier, but, ultimately, there isn't much doubt that Cam Fowler deserves it through the 1st half of the season. He leads the team in average ice time, playing just over 24 minutes a game and averages almost 30 shifts per game. He is routinely being put out against the oppositions top lines and shutting them down. While he isn't there yet, he is starting to show why Ducks fans were so happy to get him when he fell in the draft to 12th overall back in 2010. His defensive game has take a huge step up this season, and he has finally found his offensive game that has been missing since his rookie season. And, even better, he has been able to join the rush and get back on defense in the same play, reminiscent of Scott Niedermayer. And no play sums this up more than his shorthanded goal against the New York Islanders. He poked the puck away from an Islanders player in the Ducks zone to Matt Beleskey and just started skating at full speed. The Ducks had a 3 on 1 break, Beleskey shot the puck, and Fowler backhanded the rebound home. It started with a great defensive play, and ended with a great offensive play.
The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy I've always found to be a bit of an odd trophy, but for the Ducks I'm going to award it to Nick Bonino. He is 1 of 5 players to play in every game this season and he only has 8 penalty minutes. He is averaging just over 16 minutes of ice time a game and plays on both the powerplay and penalty kill. So, because of how often he is on the ice and how rarely he has been penalized I am going to award the Lady Byng to Bonino.
The Frank J. Selke Trophy could go to a few different players, but I'm going to go with Andrew Cogliano for this one. In terms of a forward playing defense, he has been lights out this year, and he has been using his speed to great advantage, especially while the Ducks have been shorthanded. Among forwards, he is 4th in shorthanded time on ice per game, averaging just over a minute a half per game for the Ducks. He is a key member of the Ducks shut down line and has also been chipping in with the offense as well (his 11 goals rank 3rd on the team).
The Bill Masterton Memorial Award goes to Francois Beauchemin. For the final month of last season Beauchemin was playing on a torn ACL and had surgery on it in May. Typically, it takes a player 4 to 6 months to get back to training, and then a little longer than that to get back to playing games. About 4 and half months after the surgery, the Ducks opened their season on October 3rd in Colorado, and Beauchemin was in the lineup. While he clearly wasn't 100%, the fact that he recovered so fast speaks volumes about the character of this player. Nothing was going to keep him off the ice when the season began, and he has been a key contributor for the Ducks this season. While he finally did miss several games with an injury, Frankie's ability to battle back so quickly from ACL injury earns him the Masterton Trophy.
The Art Ross Trophy goes to Getzlaf who leads the team with 44 points and the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy goes to Corey Perry who leads the team with 22 goals.
And those are the awards for the Anaheim Ducks through the 1st 41 games. I'll revisit these again after game 82 and see what's changed.
On paper, the Ducks do not have the star studded lineup that Pittsburgh or Chicago boasts. They don't have the Vezina goalie that Montreal or Minnesota has. And their powerplay is a dreadful 14.5%, good for 26th in the league. How then are the Ducks winning so many games and remaining at the top of the league standings through the 1st half of the season? There are several reasons, and I'll list just a few.
First of all, the play of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both of them have been excellent this season, and Getzlaf in particular has just been a monster on the ice. Secondly, their goaltending. While Hiller hasn't had a Vezina caliber season, he has been excellent in the month of December and been good enough for the Ducks to win most nights, being the better goaltender on most nights. And even though Fasth went down with an injury, the rookie Andersen has stepped in nicely and won 9 of his 1st 11 games.
Thirdly, the Ducks depth. The Ducks currently have 5 players with 10 or more goals, only the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes have more (both teams have 6 players with 10 or more goals), and 5 other teams also have 5 players with 10 or more goals. Being able to put any line on the ice and watch them score has been arguably the biggest key for the Ducks this season. 4Th, this team can come back when they are trailing. During there 10 game winning streak the Ducks fell behind in multiple games, and came back in all of them until the Sharks finally ended the Ducks winning ways. 5Th, so far this season, there is no team better on home ice than the Ducks. And seeing as how the Ducks have 25 more home games left this season, that bodes very well for them. 6Th, while it started out a little shaky, the Ducks defensive play has improved greatly from the start of the season, and the defensive pairing of Fowler and Lovejoy has become a great shut down pairing through the 1st 41 games.
And finally, the Ducks young players have really been coming through for this team. The Ducks have experienced an insane amount of injuries (at times there were the team who had lost the most man games to injury this season, I'm not sure if they still hold that title, but I'm sure they are still in the top 5, if not top 3), and the Ducks young players have come through. Lindholm has made it all but impossible to send him down when the rest of the defense gets healthy. Sami Vatanen has proved that he can contribute and belong at the NHL level. Alex Grant has taken 2 shots on goal and scored both of them! Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly have stepped into checking line rolls and excelled, and Rickard Rakell did not look out of place playing center for an NHL team.
The Ducks have been dominant through the 1st half of the season. The key now is to not let up and keep playing like this and secure home ice when the playoffs start. When the season started, I figured that any one of 5 teams could win the Pacific Division. Today, with Phoenix being an extreme longshot, that number has dropped to 4 teams, the 3 in California and Vancouver. If the Ducks want to win this division, they are going to be even better in the 2nd half of the season. They can't take nights off, their goaltending needs to continually outplay the opposition, the team needs to keep getting healthy (it's currently the healthiest it's been all season and 3 regulars are still missing), and their special teams (especially their powerplay) have to improve. If they can do all that, then they will have put themselves in an excellent position to win the Pacific Division and have home ice in the 1st round of the playoffs, and beyond if they advance.
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