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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    PHT Morning Skate: Senators support Karlssons; Donato misses practice for class

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    Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

    Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda are going through a really difficult time right now after losing their son, but they’ll have plenty of support from the Ottawa Senators. (Ottawa Citizen)

    • Not only has Marc-Andre Fleury been an important figure on the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights, he’s also emerged as a key leader on an expansion team that has exceeded expectations. (Associated Press)

    • After scoring a goal and two assists in his NHL debut, Boston Bruins froward Ryan Donato skipped practice to attend class at Harvard. (WEEI)

    • Ellen Show executive producer Andy Lassner is a huge Los Angeles Kings fan. He’s also been able to forge a relationship with a few of the team’s players. (NHL.com/Kings)

    • The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team will be looking for a new head coach for the first time in a long time, as Don Lucia called it quits after 19 years on the job. (Pioneer Press)

    • New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero went out and got Patrick Maroon from Edmonton on deadline day. The trade has worked out relatively well for him team. Even though he isn’t as fast as some of the other players on the roster, Maroon has been a useful asset. (All About the Jersey)

    • The Carolina Hurricanes won’t be making the playoffs this season, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had players step up in 2017-18. Here are their top five MVPs from this season. (Cardiac Cane)

    • St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo isn’t the most vocal guy. He does most of his talking and leading on the ice, and the team likes it that way. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

    Rickard Rakell has filled the net quite a bit over the last two years for the Anaheim Ducks, but he wants to make sure that people also see him as a complete hockey player. (OC Register)

    • If the Panthers sneak into the playoffs, Roberto Luongo will have a lot to do with it. He’s been outstanding since returning to Florida’s lineup in February. (Rat Trick)

    Alexandar Georgiev has been a pleasant surprise between the pipes for the New York Rangers. Has he earned himself a spot on the team next season? (Blue Seat Blogs)

    • Former Minnesota Wild prospect Brett Bulmer is finding his game in the ECHL with the Florida Everblades. (The Sin Bin)

    • Up top, check out the highlights from last night’s game between the Flyers and Red Wings. Petr Mrazek‘s return to Detroit didn’t exactly go as planned.

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    The Buzzer: Fleury worries; Blackhawks eliminated

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    Injury scares

    Let’s hope that Tuesday presents dodged bullets instead of long-lasting injuries.

    • You can read more about Patrik Laine not returning to the Jets’ eventual overtime win against the Kings here. The early word is that it “isn’t sinister,” whatever that means.

    Here is video of the unfortunate moment:

    • The Vegas Golden Knights must hold their breath again with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. “MAF” took a shot off of his mask and did not return to Vegas’ eventual win against Vancouver. Considering his struggles with concussion issues, this is a big concern.

    For what it’s worth, the team provided no official update, yet similarly to the Jets with Laine, the Golden Knights appear optimistic about Fleury avoided something serious. Either way, it puts a damper on this milestone.

    Elimination updates

    For the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Chicago Blackhawks won’t participate in the playoffs.

    Chicago joins the Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, and Buffalo Sabres as teams with the dreaded “e-” next to their names. The Red Wings postponed that fate by beating Philly. Edmonton delayed their own, too; they match the Blackhawks’ 69 standings points but hold a game in hand.

    So, expect more names to get officially crossed off the list very soon. The Canadiens and Senators also see their days numbered.

    Players of the Night

    • Artemi Panarin is a key figure in the Blue Jackets’ nine-game winning streak (read about how they’ve congested the Metro races in this post). Tuesday served as one of his best nights yet with Columbus, as “The Bread Man” collected a hat trick and also generated an assist. With 68 points on the season, it looks like he’ll hit 70+ points for his third season in a row, meaning he’s done so every year in the NHL. Perhaps he doesn’t need Patrick Kane to produce points, after all?

    • Leon Draisaitl collected a goal and three assists in the Oilers’ surprisingly bombastic 7-3 win against the Hurricanes, which didn’t really require Connor McDavid to dominate (he finished with one assist). Draisaitl’s quietly been showing that, while his contract is expensive, he’s probably the last of the Oilers’ worries.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]


    Matt Benning was basically enjoying batting practice during that Oilers win:

    Tremendous pass from Thomas Vanek, who now has eight points in 11 games with Columbus.


    Learn why Alex Ovechkin‘s 602nd goal is his latest milestone here.

    Nathan MacKinnon continues to tear up the NHL, as he’s second in league scoring with 91 points in just 65 games after collecting two assists on Tuesday. It really feels like he’s adding to his Hart Trophy argument every single game.


    Islanders 4, Penguins 1
    Blue Jackets 5, Rangers 3
    Capitals 4, Stars 3
    Oilers 7, Hurricanes 3
    Panthers 7, Senators 2
    Red Wings 5, Flyers 4 (SO)
    Lightning 4, Maple Leafs 3
    Jets 2, Kings 1 (OT)
    Avalanche 5, Blackhawks 1
    Golden Knights 4, Canucks 1
    Sharks 6, Devils 2

    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.

    Races heat up between Penguins, Flyers, Blue Jackets


    The Philadelphia Flyers could have sulked after a poor performance from Petr Mrazek – again – halfway through Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

    Instead, they just wouldn’t roll over, putting forth the sort of gutsy effort you’d expect from a team playing in front of Alex Lyon. (Yes, there were bad puns.)

    The Flyers rallied from deficits of 3-1 and 4-3 to grab a standings point in this one, with a memorable 4-4 tally coming when Travis Konecny notched his 20th of 2017-18 in an odd way. The Flyers ended up falling in the shootout as the Red Wings’ 5-4 SO win ended a lengthy skid, but that single point ended up being huge on a busy night in the Metropolitan Division.

    Consider some of the other developments around a division that’s felt up for grabs for a while:

    • In slipping by the Dallas Stars 4-3 in regulation, the Capitals might make the division title a little bit less than “up for grabs.” They now lead the Metro by four points with 91 in 73 games played. Alex Ovechkin scored his 44th goal of the season in this one, moving all alone to 19th all-time in goals, as that was the 602nd of his career.
    • The Pittsburgh Penguins squandered an opportunity to stay within striking distance of the Capitals for first place, and also a chance to create separation between themselves and the hard-charging Blue Jackets and tenacious Flyers. The Islanders handed the Penguins a 4-1 loss.
    • Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets must be considered a serious threat to the Penguins’ second seed, and at least a dark horse candidate to win the Metro.

    In defeating the Rangers 5-3, the Blue Jackets are now on a ridiculous nine-game winning streak. Artemi Panarin‘s quietly impressive 2017-18 season was a little tougher to ignore tonight, as he combined a hat trick with an assist.

    This win and the Penguins’ loss locks the two teams at 87 points. Pittsburgh has a game in hand (73 GP) on Columbus (74) and some other edges, but that race is now very close.

    [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

    • Columbus pushed Philadelphia down into the first wild-card spot thanks to Tuesday’s proceedings, but again, getting a point was still huge for Philly. They now have 86 points in 74 games played. That could be crucial in holding off the Devils and Panthers to at least secure a playoff spot. They’re also conceivably a hot streak away from pushing back into the Metro top three, and possibly grabbing a round of home-ice advantage if things go really well.

    Need a visual look at the races? Here’s a rundown:

    METRO 1: Capitals, 91 points, 73 GP, 39 ROW
    METRO 2: Penguins, 87 points, 73 GP, 39 ROW
    METRO 3: CBJ, 87 points, 74 GP, 35 ROW

    WILD1: Flyers, 86 points, 74 GP, 35 ROW
    WILD2: Devils, 82 points, 72 GP, 32 ROW

    Ninth place: Panthers, 7-2 win against the Senators tonight, 81 points, 71 GP, 34 ROW


    As you can see, the races for the second and third Metro spots, along with jostling for the two wild-card seeds, makes for a congested group. The Panthers hold three games in hand on the Flyers and the Devils have two on Philly, so the current buffer could plummet.

    Sure, winning the game would have been better for the Flyers, especially if they could have done it in regulation or during overtime. Considering how glum things looked heading into the second intermission, grabbing a point against Detroit was still important.

    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.

    Patrik Laine suffers injury blocking shot


    Tuesday wasn’t kind to Patrik Laine. The Winnipeg Jets have to hope that it was bad merely from a short-term perspective.

    One factor that’s probably important to Laine but not as much to the Jets: Alex Ovechkin pulled ahead in the Maurice Richard race, scoring his 44th goal of 2017-18. Laine remains stuck at 43, in part because the stupendous scorer couldn’t play much against the Los Angeles Kings.

    Laine struggled to get off the ice after blocking a shot, as you can see from the video above this post’s headline. The 19-year-old won’t return. To little surprise, there’s no real update beyond that, as the Jets are merely leaving it as a “lower-body injury.”

    The Jets’ next game is against the Ducks on Friday. That gives Winnipeg some time to assess Laine’s injury. The Finnish finisher probably wants to play in as many of the Jets’ remaining nine regular-season games (after tonight) as he can, but the team has to value an elusive playoff run more than anything else.

    This means that Laine’s 15-game point streak comes to an end. That would be noteworthy even out of context, but it’s especially relevant since it concludes the longest run for a teenager.

    Here’s hoping that Laine can return swiftly and keep a great Richard going against Ovechkin and others.

    Update: Some early optimism after the Jets managed a 2-1 overtime win against the Kings:

    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.