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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    The Buzzer: Celebrating genius of McDavid, Bergeron, Karlsson

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    Player of the Night: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

    Nico Hischier collected two goals and an assist in a blistering effort as the Devils beat the Senators in overtime. Erik Karlsson almost ruined things for New Jersey with three assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched an impressive 43-save shutout as the Lightning edged the Blue Jackets. Ben Bishop narrowly kept Clayton Keller and Derek Stepan from even bigger nights, yet each player scored two goals and one assist apiece in a slim Stars win vs. the Coyotes.

    Even Bergeron’s teammates made some waves.

    There were great choices for player of the night, but ultimately, Bergeron’s return to the Bruins lineup stands tallest. He scored a goal and three assists, soothing injury-bummed Bruins fans as part of Boston’s victory against Vancouver.

    Bergeron didn’t ease right in. He won half of his draws, fired six shots on goal, and almost logged 21 minutes of ice time. Maybe he can hold things together for Boston?

    Highlight of the Night: Connor McDavid‘s ridiculous assist

    This post goes into greater detail on that and Edmonton’s win, so we’ll just stick this GIF in here because you need to see it either way:

    OK, but to avoid an overly redundant buzzer, check Hischier here, David Pastrnak‘s great goal, and Mikhail Sergachev‘s big night. And, as a bonus, Will Butcher must have nodded to Karlsson after sending this ridiculous outlet pass:

    Outstanding.

    You know what? Enjoy Bishop robbing Derek Stepan as a bonus bonus.

    Misc.

    Click here for Erik Gudbranson‘s hit and fight. Zack Kassian‘s hit on Ryan Hartman is mentioned there, but just in case you missed it, here it is one more time:

    Factoids of the night

    Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators continued their hot streak by blanking the Flyers. Rinne enjoys a milestone moment:

    Two impressive bits regarding how dominant McDavid and Karlsson have been:

    Scores and more

    Bruins 6, Canucks 3 (more)

    Devils 5, Senators 4 [OT] (more)

    Islanders 4, Rangers 3 [SO]

    Predators 1, Flyers 0

    Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 0 (more)

    Oilers 2, Blackhawks 1 [OT] (more)

    Blues 4, Avalanche 3

    Hurricanes 2, Flames 1

    Stars 5, Coyotes 4

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Should Erik Gudbranson get suspended for boarding Frank Vatrano?

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    The Boston Bruins power play made Erik Gudbranson and the Vancouver Canucks pay with three goals during the major for his hit on Frank Vatrano, but the NHL might decide to go further.

    The NHL’s Department of Player Safety confirmed that Gudbranson, 25, will receive a Friday hearing for the boarding check. The league tends to be vague about this, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that it’s expected to being an interview over the phone, rather than the in-person variety that can bring about harsher punishments.

    Vatrano returned to the Bruins’ eventual 6-3 win against the Canucks, yet there’s a chance that he might have a setback. (Knowing Boston’s recent luck, don’t count on good news until you see it.)

    Watch the video and Gudbranson’s fight with Tim Schaller in the video above, via Hockey Fights.

    Fans responded to that announcement by pointing out one of Thursday’s other questionable hits: Zack Kassian on Ryan Hartman, which only drew a minor penalty:

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    McDavid dazzles again, Oilers break slump with OT win vs. Blackhawks

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    Update: The Edmonton Oilers ended up needing every bit of Connor McDavid‘s brilliance, as goals weren’t coming easily against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.

    (Even though, as you can see with that highlight-reel assist, McDavid often makes it look easy.)

    McDavid also managed a secondary assist on Mark Letestu‘s overtime-winner, ending the Edmonton Oilers’ losing streak at four games. The Blackhawks continue to be resourceful in getting standings points, in this case falling 2-1 in OT.

    Anton Forsberg made 40 of 42 saves, but it wasn’t enough against a driven group led by number 97.

    Here’s the OT goal.

    If you haven’t seen the more amazing of McDavid’s two helpers, do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t regret it.

    ***

    Connor McDavid’s speed and skill are glorious, but the thing that makes him extra-sensational is just how unstoppable he seems. Even against some of the NHL’s best.

    To start the season, McDavid made very-solid Calgary Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie look downright permeable during the most impressive goal in his opening-night hat trick.

    If that wasn’t impressive enough, the superstar tore through the Chicago Blackhawks – including certain future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith – and then sent absolutely obscene pass to Patrick Maroon for an easy goal.

    You know how people used to say that a fire hydrant could score 50 goals with Mario Lemieux? We might need to bump that down to 30 for modern hockey, but either way, Maroon might laugh uncomfortably at such jokes.

    If you prefer your jaw-droppers in GIF form, drop away:

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Bergeron bombastic in return, but Bruins lose Krejci to injury

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    The roller coaster isn’t slowing down for the Boston Bruins.

    With Tuukka Rask‘s concussion looming over the proceedings, the Bruins gave fans some reason to celebrate; Patrice Bergeron scored a goal and three assists in an impressive 6-3 output by the B’s top guns against the overmatched Vancouver Canucks.

    Even Anders Bjork enjoyed some measure of redemption after bowling over Rask in practice, as the young player scored two goals and an assist despite being limited to 12:29 TOI.

    Other big guns like Brad Marchand did their increasingly reliable damage, with David Pastrnak probably providing the most exhilarating goal of the contest:

    Yeah, that might get some attention from Canucks coach Travis Green in film sessions, assuming he doesn’t just burn the tape.

    Bergeron broke down his night to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy after the game:

    The Bruins really made Erik Gudbranson and the Canucks pay for boarding Frank Vatrano, as they scored three power-play goals on the major penalty. Vatrano’s another health situation to watch, although it’s heartening that he returned during the game.

    MORE: Gudbranson faces hearing for hit

    ***

    So … solid stuff overall, as the Bruins provided ample evidence that they might have the weapons to scrap through all this bad luck.

    Then again, if opponents can slow the top-end guys, you wonder what kind of supporting cast the Bruins will have left through this run of attrition. David Krejci is the latest name to land on Boston’s troubling list of walking wounded.

    Here’s hoping that it isn’t a big issue for a veteran center who’s dealt with nagging injuries in recent years.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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