After an impressive start to the 2023-24 season, the Anaheim Ducks have hit a bit of a rough patch. A Black Friday loss to the Los Angeles Kings marks their fifth in a row, and their seventh in the last nine. While their six-game winning streak in early November raised eyebrows throughout the league, the last two weeks have brought expectations back down to earth.
Part of Anaheim’s issue is their lack of scoring. The Ducks are averaging fewer than two goals a game over their last 10 games, and a large bulk of the scoring is between a few players going through unsustainable shooting benders. While I do expect some of the underperformers to bounce back, this will likely be an ongoing issue for the Ducks all season and will require help outside of the current roster to permanently address.
Very Few Offensive Contributors
Alex Killorn became the 15th player on the Ducks to score a goal this season with his power play tally on Friday. That’s a fairly middle-of-the-road figure — for reference, the Western Conference-leading Vegas Golden Knights have had 20 while the bottom-dwelling San Jose Sharks have had just 10. It’s worth mentioning the teams Anaheim is chasing in the wild card race – the Seattle Kraken (18 goal scorers), St. Louis Blues (16), and Arizona Coyotes (17) all have had more players show up on the scoresheet than the Ducks.
Going even further, very few players on the Ducks are scoring with any sort of volume. We’ll talk about Frank Vatrano and Mason McTavish’s numbers in a moment, but consistent goal scoring beyond these two has been lacking. Only seven players have lit the lamp more than twice this season. Sam Carrick is tied for fifth on the team with four goals, matching the amount of fighting majors he’s served.
Reliance on Shooting Benders
Anaheim does have two players that already hit the 10-goal plateau in the early portion of the 2023-24 campaign. The previously mentioned Vatrano (13 goals) and McTavish (10) have been incredibly common contributors to the scoresheet, combining for nearly 43% of all of Anaheim’s goals this season. Vatrano has already recorded two hat tricks, and McTavish has a pair of multi-goal games as well, including his dramatic two-goal third period to steal a win in Pittsburgh on Oct. 30 (from ‘Mason McTavish scores in the final seconds to lead the Ducks over the Penguins 4-3’, USA Today, Oct. 30, 2023).
One of the Ducks’ biggest concerns moving forward should be over-reliance on players with inflated shooting percentages. Vatrano is currently shooting 18.8% when he’s never finished a season above 11.5%. McTavish and Carrick are also shooting around 18%. And rookie Leo Carlsson is third on the team with six goals off a team-leading 20% shooting percentage.
It’s fair to expect all of those shooting percentages to cool off, unless we expect McTavish to be the second coming of Steven Stamkos. But any decline in production will have to be made up for elsewhere. Adam Henrique is shooting just over 10%, about five points under his usual percentage. Troy Terry is only on pace for 20 goals, and he’ll have to combat the revolving door of linemates to elevate his game. And then there’s Trevor Zegras, who had one goal on 30 shots before landing on injured reserve. He should help soften some regression, but his return to the lineup remains unclear.
Relief Found in the Trade Market and Farm System
This isn’t a problem I’d expect Anaheim can solve within the season. They’re a young team, and youth and inconsistency tend to go hand-in-hand. Not to mention, this roster remains mostly unchanged from the team that ranked 31st in scoring last season.
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The Ducks will likely find some relief in the trade market. They’re at the point in their rebuild where they can look externally to shore up their weaknesses. They have a deep prospect pool that can be flipped for more established scorers in bad situations. Patrik Laine is four years removed from his last 30-goal season, but he’s still only 25 years old, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are off to the kind of start that would suggest they’ll be rebuilding for a few more years. He’s the kind of player the Ducks should be targeting to plug into their top-six as they enter their competitive window. This would include free agency, and if a player like William Nylander actually hits the market, Anaheim shouldn’t hesitate to back up the Brinks truck.
Alternatively, the Ducks could look for solutions within that aforementioned deep prospect pool. 2023 third-round selection Yegor Sidorov is on a tear with 21 goals in 22 games for the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League. Anaheim isn’t going to rush the development of any of their prospects, but Sidorov pulling off a spin-o-rama goal in a live game is an encouraging sign that Anahiem has found another mid-round steal.
The Ducks’ goal scoring and shooting percentages will be something to monitor as the season moves along. While I do expect this season to be more of a “process over results,” it will be interesting to see what ends up being sustainable with this young roster.
Statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.