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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    Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

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    Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

    Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

    The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

    So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.

    Dupuis, Jagr, Zuccarello are Masterton Trophy finalists

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 18:  Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in action against the New York Rangers during their game at Madison Square Garden on December 18, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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    Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, and the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello have been selected as the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

    The Masterton Trophy recognizes “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” In 2015 it went to Devan Dubnyk, who struggled mightily in 2013-14, but dramatically turned his career around the following season and led the Minnesota Wild to the playoffs in the process.

    Dupuis attempted to play in the 2015-16 campaign while taking blood thinners, but on Dec. 8 he announced that he would stop playing “because of a medical condition related to blood clots.”

    Jagr celebrated his 44th birthday in February, but despite his age he managed to score 27 goals and 66 points in 79 contests this season. With that, he became the oldest player to reach the 60-point mark in a single NHL campaign.

    Zuccarello played in 81 games and set career-highs with 26 goals and 61 points this season after suffering a skull fracture and brain contusion during the 2015 playoffs that left him temporarily unable to speak.

    Can there be parallels drawn between the 2016 Ducks and 2014 Sharks?

    Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Kesler (17) takes the puck up ice on a breakaway with San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, center, and Ducks center Nate Thompson, right, trailing on the play during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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    The Anaheim Ducks might not have suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of one of their biggest rivals, but they seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to playoff disappointments.

    After firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Bob Murray was highly critical of the team’s core, even noting that at this point he’s not a fan of long-term contracts. That was perhaps a swipe at how he feels Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf‘s eight-year $69 million and $66 million contracts have worked out thus far. Meanwhile Ryan Kesler‘s six-year deal worth roughly $41 million is about to begin.

    After San Jose suffered its first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said they were now becoming a “tomorrow team” and they began a cultural shift that included Joe Thornton losing the captaincy.

    There are differences of course between the two situations. One notable one is that the Sharks’ guard was already starting to change hands in 2013-14. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were entering their mid-30s, but Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were on the rise. Anaheim’s core of Getzlaf and Perry is significantly younger, but while Anaheim also has some promising forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, that generation of players doesn’t seem ready to carry the torch for the Ducks.

    “We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. … Today’s a much different feeling leaving the rink,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said, per the Los Angeles Times. “In those [previous] years there’s been a sense of hope. Today, there’s zero feeling like that.”

    Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks will find hope by watching the rest of the 2016 playoffs. If the San Jose Sharks continue to succeed, they will be an example of a team that once underachieved, hit a critical low, but then managed to fix that in a relatively short time without a massive turnover in terms of on-ice personnel. While we’re at it, you could make a similar argument for the Washington Capitals.

    Maybe Murray will look to those franchises for inspiration as he moves forward.

    Capitals, Penguins nearly perfect at stopping third period comebacks

    Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) and Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) chase down the puck during the first period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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    Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.

    The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.

    “First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.

    Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.

    Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.