by PuckStopsHere on 12/18/14 at 04:58 PM ET
The Anaheim Ducks are currently in first place in the NHL. They have a 21-12 record with five regulation tie points. That gives them 47 points on the season and a two point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks. Last year Anaheim was first place in the West Conference and finished one point out of first place in the NHL. That makes them not a big surprise to be at or near the top in the NHL.
The biggest change between last year's Anaheim Ducks and this year's team is goaltending. Last year Jonas Hiller was their number one goaltender. He left as a free agent and now plays with the Calgary Flames. Frederik Andersen has been their number one goalie so far this season. He is an unproven goalie who started off well this season but has since slowed down a bit. Ilya Bryzgalov has been signed to give them a veteran presence. Goaltending is a weakness and it will likely knock this team out of first place.
There is significant front-line offensive talent. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler are three forwards with all star ability. Matt Beleskey has had surprising success and has 14 goals so far this season. Much of their other forward depth is youngish players who are expected to play a bigger role today than they have shown in the past. These players include Jakob Silfverberg, Patrick Maroon and Devante Smith-Pelly.
Their defence is solid but lacks a superstar. Sami Vatanen has been their top defenceman this season. This is his first full season in the NHL, but he made a strong showing in the Sochi Olympics. Cam Fowler is improving his defensive game and becoming a more complete player. Hampus Lindholm and Francois Beauchemin are important players providing depth.
One often forgotten strength in Anaheim is coaching. Bruce Boudreau is among the best coaches in the NHL. He has done a very good job with the Ducks and should have won coach of the year as a Duck. I think he has been the best coach so far this season. Anaheim performs better than their talent level on a regular basis.
The Ducks have only scored seven more goals than their opponents all season (eight if you include the phony goals the NHL adds to the official stats for shootout wins). This is a low total for a first place team. It is a strong reason to imagine the Ducks won't remain in first place.
The Anaheim Ducks have done very well in the NHL standings in the last couple of years. They are in first place overall right now. The surprise is that they have downgraded their goaltending and not struggled as a result. Their goals for and against suggest that they are playing over their heads, but they have done that for quite a while. I don't think they will keep their first place position all season, but I bet they finish near the top.
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