Anaheim was a very bad team in terms of shot-differential last year. Over 82 games last season they were outshot by 314 shots, the third-worst margin in the league. For reference, only seven teams got outshot by more than 200 shots last season; the Ducks were the only one of those to make the playoffs. Still, shooting margins did improve as the season went along -- Anaheim did manage a +14 shot differential over the 30 games following the All-Star break. But how and why did that happen?
The chart below shows the shot differential for all 82 regular season games the Ducks played last year. The red line is the 10-game running average, and I've marked a few key incidents on the timeline -- events that affected key parts of the Ducks lineup:
A - Game 5 - Toni Lydman makes his debut.
B - Game 40 - Ryan Getzlaf gets injured.
C - Game 53 - Jonas Hiller makes his last regular start for the Ducks.
D - Game 55 - Getzlaf returns to the lineup; one game later Francois Beauchemin makes his debut.
E - Game 62 - Dan Ellis makes his first start.
F - Game 70 - Ray Emery makes his first start.
Obviously there's some fluctuation here, but you can see the improvement as the season goes on -- look how often the blue lines go below the -10 mark in the first half of the season compared to the second. Woo hoo! Progress!
From a team-winning and a goal-differential perspective, the best segments of last year's season were between B and C (Getzlaf injured but Hiller excelling) and from E onward (team excelling in front of Ellis or Emery). From a shooting perspective, the key recovery point appears to be right around the insertion of Beauchemin and the loss of Hiller -- both seemed to have some impact. For Frenchie, that makes some sense -- he added a level of competence to a shaky blueline. For Jonas, though, I'm not so sure -- could he be responsible for some of the shooting discrepancy?
Sure, Hiller is a rebound machine, but that's somewhat true of his successors as well. Puck handling is also not the Swissman's strong suit, which may have some impact too. But I have to think more than that, Hiller's teammates simply played better for their replacement goalies than they did for their #1. Maybe that was because they finally had time to get the system right; maybe it's because they felt more vulnerable in net and adjusted -- whatever the reason, it corresponded with some winning hockey that got the Ducks from outside the playoffs to 4th in the west.
Will the shot-differential improvement continue if Jonas Hiller returns? Tough to say -- the data trend has me cautiously optimistic, I guess, but it's not like the roster or coach will be whoppingly different from the ones that started last season, either -- could go either way. So no hard conclusions today, but I thought I'd throw the chart out there -- feel free to discuss in the comments.