TORONTO – How’s this for a crazy statistic?
The Anaheim Ducks, a perennial contender, have not won a regulation hockey game in Toronto, home of a perennial rebuilder, since Nov. 9, 1999.
To put that fun fact in perspective, “No Scrubs” could describe both a single soaring to the top of the charts and the Maple Leafs roster. (Toronto enjoyed its first 100-point campaign that year.)
“We haven’t had much success here,” understates Anaheim forward Andrew Cogliano, whose team will clinch a playoff berth with a win Thursday.
Cogliano, a Woodbridge kid who’s carved a living skating in the Western Conference, says he used to get flooded with ticket requests during his homecoming games. Now he only needs to arrange four or five for his parents and immediate family.
If the Ducks are to end this peculiar run of futility, chances are they’ll partly credit Cogliano and the most efficient special teams in the league.
Thursday pits the NHL’s best PK unit against the league's worst PP unit.
The Ducks’ kill is a sparkling 87.3 per cent, while the Leafs convert a league-low 14.2 per cent of their man-advantages.
How good is the Anaheim PK? Their lead in this category over the No. 2-ranked New York Islanders (1.9 per cent) is greater than the gap between any other two sequential teams in the 1-30 ranking.
(That Anaheim also tops the league in power-play efficiency at 23.2 per cent is remarkable but a story for another day.)
Structurally, nothing has changed from the Ducks’ PK last season when the club ranked 15th in the category (81 per cent), says Cam Fowler.
Surely the maturation of an Anaheim defence core can explain some of the improvement, but Fowler gives all credit to assistant coach Trent Yawney.
Yawney, who joined the Ducks last season, meticulously breaks down footage of the upcoming opponent’s power play for his PK unit.
“Every time he shows video, we know what teams are doing, and there’s no grey area on how to defend it. Everyone knows their job,” Fowler, 24, says. “Every time we go out there, we’re prepared and we know what’s coming to us, and we have guys who can execute that. I attribute a lot of our success to him and how much time he puts into it.”
But having the right personnel helps, and will be critical in the playoffs, where the focus on special teams narrows and the power play of potential foes St. Louis, Chicago, San Jose and Dallas all rank in the top six.
Hampus Lindholm, 22, tops all Ducks blue-liners in ice time (154:52) and blocked shots (26) on the kill. Cogliano leads the group with 10 shots and three points down a man. Jacob Silfverberg is steadily improving his two-way game. And Ryan Kesler is simply a killing machine.
Lucky for Toronto, Kesler will miss his first game of the season Thursday due to an unspecified emergency.
“Kesler’s the best faceoff guy in the league,” says Leafs coach Mike Babcock, “so when you look at all of their clips, a lot of it starts by him winning the draw. He wins the draw, and they shoot it down the ice.”
The pesky centre leads all Ducks killers in blocked shots (33), ice time (201:40) and faceoffs (155), taking 127 more draws in these key defensive situations than any other teammate.
“Whoa. It makes a big difference,” says Cogliano. “I’ve been playing with him now for 30 or 35 games straight. There’s some nights he doesn’t lose a draw or only loses a couple. It makes an incredible difference with possession time, and you can run more faceoff plays.
“I now have a perfect understanding of how important face-offs are because he wins so many of them.”