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Ducks Gameday—Who’s responsible for this improvement?

Nashville Predators (20-18-2, 12th in west) at Anaheim Ducks (21-17-6, t-6th in west)

It’s certainly been a weird sort of year for the champion Ducks. If you wanted to overgeneralize this season, you could say the team started the year minus Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, and suffered both offensively and defensively because of it.

Since Scott’s return, the team has certainly performed better standings-wise, but it’s clear where the improvement is kicking in—on the defensive end. In the 34 games prior to Scott’s return, the Ducks allowed 2.82 goals per game; in the 10 games since that number has dropped to 1.60. A lot of that can be attributed to the penalty kill, which allowed 41 PPGs in the first 34, and only 4 in the last 10.

However, the offensive end still remains stagnant; as a matter of fact the Ducks were scoring more goals before Niedermayer (2.38 goals per game) than since his return (2.20 goals per game). Does this mean that the team still needs a return out of Selanne (who per the OC Register has begun skating)?

On the surface, it seems to be so. I do want to caution, however, against attributing too much of improved results to the returning player. Yes, the Ducks are a better team with Niedermayer in the lineup, but if you look at the numbers, it’s not necessarily Niedermayer that seems to be driving the results.

The two tables below show the top-six defensemen before and after Niedermayer’s return. The tables show games played, even-strength (EV) minutes, EV "plus" events per 60 minutes, EV "minus" events per 60 minutes, the resulting EV goal-differential per 60 minutes, shorthanded minutes, and shorthanded goal-differential per 60 minutes.

Before Scott's return:

Player

GP EV Min EV Plus/hr EV Minus/hr EV Diff/hr PK Min PK Diff/hr

F. Beauchemin

34

659

+1.55

-2.55

-1.00

157

-10.32

C. Pronger

34

600

+1.80

-2.10

-0.30

175

-5.50

S. O’Donnell

34

467

+1.29

-1.80

-0.51

154

-6.23

K. Huskins

29

432

+3.06

-1.67

+1.39

60

-6.97

S. Hnidy

32

381

+1.73

-1.57

+0.16

38

-3.15

M. Schneider

19

328

+2.93

-1.65

+1.28

9

-6.65


Since Scott's return:

Player

GP EV Min EV Plus/hr EV Minus/hr EV Diff/hr PK Min PK Diff/hr

F. Beauchemin

10

179

+1.34

-2.35

-1.01

36

-5.07

C. Pronger

10

170

+2.11

-0.35

+1.76

42

-1.44

S. Niedermayer

10

168

+2.15

-2.87

-0.72

27

-4.42

M. Schneider

10

155

+1.94

-0.78

+1.16

12

+0.00

S. O’Donnell

10

132

+2.74

-0.46

+2.28

38

-1.56

K. Huskins

9

115

+2.61

-1.57

+1.05

4

-16.90


In terms of improvement, you have to be struck by the numbers associated with Chris Pronger and Sean O’Donnell. Both have improved by more than 2 goals-per-60 at even-strength differential and both have improved by more than 4 goals-per-60 while shorthanded. It’s a whopping improvement, more than I’d expect, especially since Scott Niedermayer isn’t really sharing minutes with either of them. And it’s not as if Scott’s stepped in and taken shutdown defensive role either; Pronger and O.D. are still facing the best the opposition has to offer.

I really don’t have a lot of answers as to what’s really changed about Pronger’s minutes, but the results are there for discussion. Is it just a matter of lockerroom accountability, or is Scott’s minute-sharing somehow making the shutdown job easier to accomplish? I’ll probably do some more of this segmented analysis going forward; one thing about this season is that it is very interesting to see how results change as the roster changes.

Prediction: In its last trip to California, Nashville lost all three games by a combined score of 12-1. Here’s hoping their west-coast affliction continues. Ducks 4, Preds 2. Goals by Pronger, Kunitz, Pahlsson, and Bertuzzi.

Go Ducks.