2011-2012 season preview: Anaheim Ducks

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2010-2011 record: 47-30-5, 99 points; 2nd in Pacific, 4th in West

Playoffs: Lost to Nashville 4-2 in Western quarterfinals

After an embarrassingly bad road trip to start last season, the Ducks managed to turn things around and eventually earn home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs last season. Teemu Selanne proved that he could still play even though he turned 40 before last season. Lubomir Visnovsky showed that he is one of the most potent offensive defensemen in the league, and Jonas Hiller demonstrated in the first half that he is a world class goaltender. Take all of that and mix in an unstoppable top line led by the defending Hart Trophy winner and there are plenty of pieces in place to get fans in Anaheim excited.

Offense

There’s no question that the Ducks’ offensive line is extremely top-heavy — but those few stars showed that they were capable of carrying the team last season. MVP Corey Perry, captain Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan combined last season to be arguably the top line in the entire NHL last season. Selanne joined Getzlaf and Perry on the power play and put up 31 goals and 80 points of his own. If the major players can stay healthy, they’re going to get theirs.

For the Ducks, the key will be for the team to get some scoring depth from the other lines. Jason Blake and Saku Koivu will join Selanne on the second line. Newcomer Andrew Cogliano will take over for Todd Marchant as the shutdown center. Another bottom-six player to watch could be rookie Devante Smith-Pelly — he plays the perfect style of game to be an effective, physical player who can create energy and opportunities for his teammates.

Defense

The weak spot on the Ducks is their blue line. Guys like Lubomir Visnovsky and Cam Fowler are the types of blueliners who can create offense from the point, but true shutdown defenseman are few and far between in Anaheim. Toni Lydman was a fantastic surprise for the team last year and will be asked to do the same last season. Francois Beauchemin will also look to rediscover the game he left during his first stint with the Ducks. Regardless, the Ducks were 20th in the league in goals against average — not a good stat considering Jonas Hiller and Ray Emery were such strong goaltenders last season.

Goalies

The word out of Anaheim throughout training camp is that Jonas Hiller is 100 percent and ready to start the season as the No. 1 goalie. He was one of the best goaltenders in the league going into the all-star break, but a bout with vertigo symptoms in essence sidelined him for the entire second half. Ray Emery stepped in with Dan Ellis to help the Ducks survive to the playoffs — but it’s always been Hiller’s net. In the offseason, the Ducks let Emery leave for a tryout in Chicago and acquired Jeff Deslauriers to put a little pressure on Ellis for the backup role.

Coaching

Randy Carlyle started his tenure in Anaheim with a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2006 followed it with the franchise’s first (and only) Stanley Cup in 2007. Unfortunately, the team and Carlyle haven’t had as much playoff success in the four years since reaching the promised land. Still, the Ducks have consistently been a playoff contender — due in large part to Carlyle’s ability to get his team to play with a tough edge.

Breakout candidate

Cam Fowler has all the makings of a breakout player this season. After his highly-publicized freefall in the 2010 draft, Fowler found himself in Anaheim in his very first season. He gradually became more comfortable on the ice and finished the season with 10 goals and 40 points. He also had a minus-25 rating. The Ducks and Fowler say that he’s more comfortable on both sides of the puck and he’s slated to get first-line power play minutes this season. Watch for Fowler to improve upon his rookie stats and grow into a legitimate top-four defenseman role.

Best-case scenario

In some ways, the Ducks can look to last season for their best-case scenario. Perry was able to put the team on his back and score 50 goals (even with Getzlaf out for an extended period of time). Selanne was able to stay healthy and didn’t miss a beat and Hiller was one of the best goaltenders in the game during the first half. If Anaheim can replicate everything from last season and have better luck on the injury front, it could battle for home-ice in the first round again.

Reality

The Ducks will need to prove that they can keep the puck out of the net. In a way, Anaheim is an interesting case study in building a team. While the Ducks used defense to win a Cup in ’07, they’re now led by an elite handful of scorers and a great goaltender. They could certainly use more depth at forward and a little more help on the defensive side of the blue line. Still, the Ducks proved that their formula can produce positive results when everyone produces at the highest level. They may slip, but the third spot in the Pacific and the seventh spot in the Western Conference are realistic expectations.

Penguins announce they will accept White House invite

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One day after the NBA champion Golden State Warriors announced that they would use their trip to Washington this season to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion in lieu of a White House visit, the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins issued a statement announcing they have accepted an invite to visit the White House again this year.

The Statement from the Penguins reads as follows.

“The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships – touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama – and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.

Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.”

This comes on the same weekend that players across professional sports, from the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, have been speaking out and taking part in unprecedented protests against racial inequality and comments from the President that players that do not stand for the National Anthem should be fired.

During the early Sunday NFL game in London several players from the Baltimore Ravens took a knee during the National Anthem, while Jaguars owner Shad Khan stood and locked arms with his players. Those protests are expected to continue throughout the day.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have chosen to not participate in the National Anthem before their game against the Chicago Bears, instead choosing to remain in the locker room.

Detroit’s new arena hosts Red Wings game for the 1st time

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Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard crouched in net and gazed up at the largest videoboard in the NHL.

“I caught myself a couple of times, especially in the first and halfway through the third, watching on the big screen,” Howard said. “I got to remind myself that there’s actually a game going on in front of me.”

Little Caesars Arena made its debut as a sports venue as the Red Wings beat the Boston Bruins 5-1 Saturday night.

And even the Bruins came away impressed.

“I don’t think there’s another arena that can compare to it,” Boston goaltender Zane McIntyre said.

That was the goal.

Ilitch Holdings president and CEO Chris Ilitch went on a mission to build the world’s finest arena. He traveled all over North America to borrow ideas from other arenas and stadiums. Ilitch also drew on experiences from trips to Europe to create an experience in, around and outside the building that is truly unique.

“To be state of the art, you have to know the state of the industry to truly be innovative,” Ilitch said recently in an interview with The Associated Press. “We want people to come and be amazed.”

So far, so good.

Kelly Mulley, a 25-year-old fan, made the trek from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to make the first preseason game without missing the birth of his daughter.

“Her due date was too close to the date of the first regular season game in a couple weeks,” Mulley said before pulling up his right sleeve to show the Red Wings’ winged wheel tattooed on the inside of his right biceps. “This place is a definite upgrade from Joe Louis Arena. It reminds me of the Bell Centre in Montreal because of how on top of the ice the fans seem to be and with the organist.”

The Red Wings said goodbye in April their former home, known as The Joe , where they raised four of the franchise’s 11 Stanley Cup banners to the crowded rafters. The team and red-clad fans in the stands will be excited about Little Caesars Arena for a while, but the feel-good vibe will fade if the team doesn’t win.

Detroit failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time since 1990, ending the NHL’s third longest postseason streak in league history.

“One of the guys on the team said there are no excuses not to win,” Olympia Entertainment President Tom Wilson said. “It’s a dream come true for players in terms of facilities.”

Kirk Malty agreed.

The former Red Wings player, who works for the organization as a pro scout, said the size of the dressing room is only one of the many upgrades.

“Not to be rude or mean, but it’s like the players are going from living in the back of a truck to moving into a mansion,” Maltby said.

The Pistons, who are moving downtown from The Palace of Auburn Hills in the suburbs, will take the court in the same space Oct. 4 against Charlotte in an exhibition game. Bob Seger’s concert on Saturday night was the arena’s final scheduled event.

“It was a very bold move for Tom Gores to move his team from his own arena,” Ilitch told The AP during an exclusive tour last month. “He has tremendous vision and knew he could take it up a notch and make a bigger impact on the community. This isn’t just an arena. What we’ve created is very, very special.”

 

Ekman-Larsson suffers lower-body injury vs. Sharks, will be re-evaluated today

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The Arizona Coyotes lost to the San Jose Sharks in preseason action Saturday. What will matter more is the status of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

According to reports, Ekman-Larsson suffered a lower-body injury during overtime and had to be helped off the ice.

“He will get re-evaluated tomorrow — lower body,” said head coach Rick Tocchet, per Arizona Sports. “See what happens tomorrow. I don’t think he will practice tomorrow.”

At 26 years of age, Ekman-Larsson is a huge piece of a rebuilding Coyotes team and, based on previous comments from general manager John Chayka, is expected to be heavily relied upon on the blue line this season.

It’s also expected that he will be named the new Coyotes captain, taking over the leadership role from Shane Doan.

Rangers’ Desjardins faces hearing for ‘dirty’ hit on Miles Wood

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Just hours after delivering a two-game preseason suspension to Tom Wilson, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a statement on Twitter, this time saying Andrew Desjardins will have a hearing.

That hearing is scheduled to take place Monday. Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal hit to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood during Saturday’s preseason game between the Devils and Rangers.

The incident occurred before the midway point of the first period.

Wood was slow to get back to his feet, but did eventually return to the game. The hit resulted in a melee in front of the Rangers net, with John Moore also getting called for roughing.