2010-11 NHL season preview: Anaheim Ducks

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ducksthreeforwards.jpgLast season: (39-32-12, 89 points, 4th in Pacific Division,11th in Western Conference) Ignore the fact that the Ducks would have been the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference because it ultimately doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that Anaheim keeps sliding since it won the Stanley Cup in 2007, going from a failing contender to a team who miserably flopped out of playoff status last season as the ‘Chris Pronger Curse’ continues. The best moments of their players’ years came outside of Anaheim, as Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf won a gold medal team while Bobby Ryan earned a silver and Jonas Hiller played well during the Olympics.

Head coach: I’ve often wondered just how impressive a coach Randy Carlyle really is. He won a Cup, but that was with a loaded roster that included Ilya Bryzgalov as a backup, Pronger and Scott Niedermayer patrolling the blue line and Getzlaf-Perry on the second line. One must wonder if his job’s in danger if the Ducks waddle their way out of contention again.

Key departures: D Scott Niedermayer, D James Wisniewski, D Steve Eminger, F Mike Brown. Niedermayer’s absence towers over all their losses, as the Ducks lost a Hall of Fame defenseman in each of the last two summers (Pronger in 2009). Wisniewski might have been the next best guy on their blueline. Steve Eminger and Mike Brown are ham-and-eggers, although Brown’s handlebar mustache brought me great joy during Toronto’s preseason games.

Key arrivals: D Toni Lydman, D Paul Mara, D Andy Sutton, D Cam Fowler. GM Bob Murray at least tried to fill some of those defensive holes, with the solid Lydman, up-and-down Mara and ‘expertise’ of Sutton. With first-round pick Fowler already making the team as a rookie, things are as bad on defense as they can be.

jonashillerunderpressure.jpgUnder pressure: Jonas Hiller won’t have a former Stanley Cup winner (J.S. Giguere) breathing down his neck this season. Instead, he’ll play behind the worst Ducks defense in ages. Good luck there, Jonas.

Protecting the house: Hiller is a beyond-solid goalie, as any Sharks fan should remember from their first round playoff match two years ago. The Ducks have benefited from serious competition in their goalie rotations since the days of J.S. Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov, so it will be interesting to see if Hiller could handle a likely Brodeur-type workload. Backup Curtis McElhinney knows all the best time-killing strategies to avert boredom on the bench after settling for Miikka Kiprusoff’s table scraps in Calgary.

Again, the Ducks defense is their clear weak point. Who’s going to shut down Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar? Will they throw out offensive-minded defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky or second pairing-quality guys like Lydman? I guess the answer to who will stop Thornton, Kopitar and other elite forwards is ‘Hiller, hopefully.’

Top line we’d like to see: Rather than focusing on three forwards since the big three skate with each other often, how about this power-play setup: Forwards: Perry, Getzlaf, Teemu Selanne; Points: Ryan, Visnovsky.

I don’t normally condone forwards playing the point because it exposes your team to dangerous shorthanded counter-attacks, but my goodness, that’s a scary power play.

Oh captain, my captain: Getzlaf got the nod on Oct. 4. Interesting choice.

georgeparrosfights.jpgStreet fighting man: The Cup-era Ducks were the Broad Street Bullies Lite, but this team keeps getting smaller. Still, George Parros owns a legendary mustache (immortalized by fans many times) and some lethal fists. He’s also the product of an Ivy-league education, which means he can beat you in Trivial Pursuit when he’s not pummeling you with knuckle sandwiches.

Best-case scenario: That makeshift defense ends up being better than the sum of its parts. Selanne scores 35 goals because he’s healthy and just knows how to score on the power play. Koivu provides great leadership while Hiller flourishes as the alpha dog in net. Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan becomes the best line in the NHL and the Ducks threaten to win a Cup to the surprise of many.

Worst-case scenario: Selanne and Koivu show their age and struggle with injuries and a lack of ‘zip.’ Hiller falls apart thanks to a big workload and a bad defense. Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan struggle since the team lacks other scoring options (and the trio doesn’t have the financial inspiration of contract years in their near future). The team falls well short of the playoffs and sends Carlyle and his Julius Caesar haircut packing.

Keeping it real: There is no denying that if you played a video game with no line changes, the Ducks would be a contender thanks to their best players. Perry-Ryan-Getzlaf-Hiller is quite the foursome and the Pacific Division is a little softer than last year. But man, that defense and the Ducks’ lack of depth really worries me. It’s possible that no team in the NHL could produce such a wide array of results as Anaheim. The Ducks might shock many and win the Pacific, but they can also be the worst team in the division. My guess is that they’ll either be in third (if Phoenix regresses) or fourth (just ahead of the troubled Stars).

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Ducks earn a 3. I consider three the “If Zone.” They could have a deep run if their older players stay healthy and their defense is competitive yet they could face disaster if those things aren’t there. The Ducks’ upcoming season will be one big cosmic coin flip.

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    Preds still haven’t found their scoring touch

    Mike Fisher
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    The Nashville Predators got off to a relatively good start this season, but something seems to have happened to their offense over the last six games.

    Prior to Nov. 20, the Preds had only been shut out once in their first 17 games. Since then, they’ve been blanked three times and have just six goals in their last six contests.

    If you remove Mike Fisher from the equation, the numbers are even more dreadful.

    Fisher’s scored three of those six goals, while Filip Forsberg, Shea Weber, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro have none.

    After Saturday’s 4-1 loss to Buffalo , here’s what coach Peter Laviolette told the Tennessean: “I thought we could’ve had more gas, to be honest with you. The energy just wasn’t there; maybe the second period had something to do with that or the road trip, which was a long trip. I’m not making any excuses, but I think when we play at a higher tempo that’s when we’re at our best, and we had more to push in that area tonight.”

    The first game back home after a long road trip is typically a difficult one for most teams, so we’ll see how the Predators respond on Tuesday night when they host Arizona.

    A month to remember: Duchene lighting it up in November

    Matt Duchene, Nick Holden
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    It wasn’t too long ago that a report surfaced saying that the Avalanche were willing to listen to offers on forward Matt Duchene.

    When a player’s struggling and rumors start swirling, one of two things tends to happen.

    Either the player involved lets it affect his on-ice performance in a negative way or he’s motivated by the trade talk and turns his struggles around.

    Instead of pouting, the 24-year-old rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

    In October, Duchene scored a goal and an assist in 10 games, but things changed in a hurry when November rolled around.

    The Avs forward has picked up at least one point in 11 of 13 games this month.

    Duchene has 11 goals and nine assists in November and he still has a game to go before the calendar flips to December.

    “Obviously, things completely flip-flopped,” Duchene told the Denver Post. “That’s the coldest start I’ve ever had and things are good right now. Obviously, I know it could go right back, I could go cold again, that’s just the nature of the game. You just have to work every day to keep it going. The most important thing is to be able to provide offense and help the team win.”

    PHT Morning Skate: A bride can have her burger and eat it too

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    PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

    A woman in a wedding dress was caught eating a burger during Saturday’s game between the Stars and Wild. (Above)

    Team Europe has a number of quality goaltending options to chose from ahead of next fall’s World Cup of Hockey. (NHL.com)

    Watch as some players on Nashville’s roster try to guess the lyrics to different country songs:

    Former goaltender Eddie Johnston sits down for a Q & A with ESPN.com’s Shelly Anderson. (ESPN)

    Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher got into a “Twitter war” with former NHLer Jim Kyte. (Puck Daddy)

    Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference made a generous donation to a Syrian refugee fund. (Huffington Post)

    Julien explains comments about Lundqvist’s ‘acting’

    Claude Julien

    We’re now over two days removed from last Friday’s tilt between the Bruins and the Rangers, but the coaches from both teams seem unwilling to move on.

    Moments after that game, Claude Julien claimed that Henrik Lundqvist did some “acting” on the ice to sell a goalie interference call on Brad Marchand.

    On Saturday, Alain Vigneault fired back by saying that Julien needed to get his eyesight checked. Vigneault also compared Aaron Rome’s hit on Nathan Horton in the 2011 Stanley Cup final to Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan in Friday’s game.

    Now it was Julien’s turn to address the “issue” at hand.

    Julien clarified his original comment about Lundqvist and he also tackled some of Vigneault’s comments.

    “I think it’s pretty obvious what I said . . . I thought Lundqvist sold it,” said Julien. “Not for a second did I ever question Henrik Lundqvist as a person, or a goaltender or any of that. We all know how good he is as a goaltender, and I know he’s a good person. I’ve met him at the All-Star games and all that stuff.

    Julien on his eyesight: “As far as my eyes, I’m not the one that compared Beleskey’s hit to Aaron Rome’s [hit]. We’ll just leave it at that.”

    It’s time for both sides to move on.