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Taking a look at the Anaheim Ducks’ miserable start

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Judging a team by its first three games is incredibly hasty in an 82-game season, but the Anaheim Ducks are making it pretty difficult to refrain from “fire and brimstone” talk. They haven’t just gone 0-3, they’ve been absolutely decimated.

Most people assumed that their defense would be a weakness thanks to the retirement of Scott Niedermayer and departure of other pieces over the years, and that’s exactly right. The Ducks allowed a disturbing 13 goals in three games so far, more than 4 goals per game. You cannot lay the blame solely at goalie Jonas Hiller’s feet or point to bad luck, either. When your team allows more than twice as many shots (145) as they produce (72) and that total is just a sniff under 50 shots per game, your defense is putrid.

It’s not as if these contests have been a shooting gallery, either, as the Ducks offense is as impotent as their defense is clueless. Despite dressing talented forwards such as Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, Anaheim only scored two goals so far this season (both by Koivu).

No doubt about it, Anaheim’s opening performances have been downright abysmal. The question is, will they right the ship? There are a few reasons why they might but justifiable cause to wonder if this might be a nightmare season. Let’s take a quick glance at both sides of the argument.

Why things could get better

  • The Ducks are slow starters: As Earl Sleek points out in a Battle of California post that gave reasons to be positive while pointing out how bad the first two games were, Anaheim is a team that takes a while to wake up in the regular season. Sleek wrote that the Ducks made the playoffs twice in the three times the franchise started a season 0-3.
  • The Ducks have talent: While they missed the playoffs last year, they still have some of the best forwards in the NHL and a talented goalie in Hiller. They’re not quite as hopeless as some of the NHL’s worst from 09-10 from a talent standpoint.

Why things might not get better

  • Their defense is brutal: Even at 100 percent health, the Ducks blue line is a stark contrast from the group that helped them bully their way to a Stanley Cup. When Lubomir Visnovsky is probably your best defenseman, you better score a lot of goals.
  • The Curse of Chris Pronger: The Blues still aren’t regular fixtures in the playoffs since Pronger left while the Oilers continue to pick up the pieces. Oddly enough, it’s hard to replace a guy who menaces the competition into timid play for nearly half of a game.

If you ask me, the Ducks will get a bit better (you can only lose by 3-4 goals so many times, right?) but will need a drastic change to make the playoffs. Let’s just say that coach Randy Carlyle might want to update his resume if things don’t improve soon.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 of Islanders – Lightning, Penguins – Capitals

Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) starts to celebrate his goal against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) and Kris Letang (58) during the second period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday, April 28, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Saturday. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Can Sidney Crosby and the Penguins even things up against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals? Will the Lightning avoid dropping both games at home against the Islanders? We’ll find out on NBC.

NY Islanders at Tampa Bay (3:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Pittsburgh at Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will also be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Some reading to get you pumped up:

– The Penguins are keeping chatty Marc-Andre Fleury from speaking to the media(reportedly).

Tom Wilson received a fine, not a suspension, for that knee-to-knee hit.

T.J. Oshie was the difference-maker for Washington in Game 1.

– Don’t expect Steven Stamkos to face red-hot John Tavares anytime soon (or at all, maybe).

Read about the Isles’ Game 1 win

With Eaves injured, Nichushkin will play for Stars in Game 2

Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) takes control of the puck in front of St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 3-0. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Patrick Eaves won’t be able to play for the Dallas Stars against the St. Louis Blues in their upcoming Game 2.

The last time we saw Eaves, he was leaving the ice by gliding on one foot after being hit by a teammate’s shot. He needed help to the locker room and was seen on crutches according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.

The bad news is that Eaves cannot go. The good news is that the Stars can replace him with a player who boasts considerable offensive skill, as Valeri Nichushkin will take Eaves’ place.

Nichushkin wasn’t very effective in five postseason games so far, failing to score a point and only managed three shots on goal.

Still, if the frenetic pace of Game 1 carries on through this series, Nichushkin could very well make an impact.

Update: the Stars have other options at forward after making recalls:

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

“They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.

Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

The puck shot by Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel crosses the goal line as St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) attempt the stop during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. The Stars won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
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The Dallas Stars only beat the St. Louis Blues by one goal (2-1) in Game 1, but the feeling is that the score was deceptively close.

Blame it on fatigue from that epic series against the Chicago Blackhawks or not; the Blues looked out of rhythm and out of breath against the hard-charging Stars.

At least they’re not in denial about that, though.

“We’re not going to beat anybody giving up 40 shots on goal,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after their Game 1 loss on Friday. “We’re not going to beat anybody giving up the scoring chances we did today.”

Hitchcock added “we’ve got to find the energy to play our game, and we’ve got to find it quickly in the next 48 hours.”

Allowing 40 shots on goal might not be that common for the Blues, yet they leaned heavily on Brian Elliott against the Blackhawks in that series.

Just look at the SOG comparison in that series and in Game 1 vs. Dallas:

Game 1: Blues – 18 SOG, Blackhawks – 35
Game 2: Blues – 31, Blackhawks – 29
Game 3: Blues – 36, Blackhawks – 46
Game 4: Blues – 20, Blackhawks – 42
Game 5: Blues – 46, Blackhawks – 35
Game 6: Blues – 28, Blachawks – 36
Game 7: Blues – 26, Blackhawks – 33

Game 1: Blues – 32, Stars – 42

Such shot comparisons make you wonder if Game 1 provided evidence of a rest advantage or if this might just be the state of affairs for the Blues (at least against two electric offenses).

One area to watch is the transition game. The Stars seemed to tear through the neutral zone while the Blues sometimes struggled to get things going.

“They’re a team that wants to play real fast up the ice and through the neutral zone,” Jay Bouwmeester said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Yeah, we didn’t do a very good job of slowing them down. A lot of their chances were off the rush. That’s what you want to take away from them.”

File that under “easier said than done.”