Internet Hotstove is a series where Last Word On Sports asks the opinions of respected bloggers from around the internet about their team’s chances in the 2013-14 NHL Playoffs. The goal is to get a broad view of opinion from around the league as an alternative to other playoff previews.
Not since they won their first and only cup in 2006-07 have the Anaheim Ducks been considered a Stanley Cup favourite. But this year’s edition of that team certainly makes the list. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry up from have had excellent years, and will be looking to complete the rare combination of winning a Gold Medal and a Stanley Cup in the same season. But they are far from the only pieces on a team that has done nothing but win this year. If that trend continues, Stanley could take a second tour of Anaheim.
Meet the Bloggers:
Eric Evelhoch- Writer for AnaheimCaling.Com @EricTheHawk
Jared Dobias- Writer for BattleOfCali.Com @JerMeansWell
1. Who is the playoff x-factor for the Ducks?
Dobias: It remains to be seen who starts in net, but a good argument can be made that it should (and just might be) Frederik Andersen. If this happens, Andersen is probably what you can consider the x-factor. Hiller has been solid in some previous playoff runs, but was shaky during last season’s series against Detroit, and has seemed to have fallen apart a bit towards the end of this season. It makes me nervous going with a rookie goaltender, but the Ducks don’t have many options. Defense seems to step it up in front of him a bit, so it might be a good push that gets the rest of the team running at 100%.
Then there’s Nick Bonino, who a lot of people seem to be considering the team’s possible x-factor this postseason and I can’t say I disagree with them. He’s had a bit of a breakout year and has been extremely versatile as far as what line he fits in on. He had some success in last year’s series against Detroit, and looks to be even more promising heading in to this postseason.
Evelhoch: Secondary scoring will determine whether or not the Ducks are successful, and the biggest hinges of that are centers Mathieu Perreault and Nick Bonino. Perreault has gone through stretches of putting points on the scoresheet multiple games in a row while playing with Teemu Selanne and Pat Maroon, generating chances at both even strength as well as occasional time on the top power play unit. Bonino is quite a utility man, generally skating with Kyle Palmieri, though occasionally drawing time on the top line as a forward with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in addition to the power play. This Ducks team scored more goals than any other in team history and the most in the league- it’s been on the backs of Getzlaf and Perry for sure, but much less so than in seasons prior. Anaheim learned you can’t win in the playoffs if you can’t get goals from all over your lineup, especially if the opposition takes away one of the nicknamed ‘Twins’ like how Detroit held Perry scoreless last postseason.
2. Would you consider the Ducks to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender?
Dobias: Obviously I want to say yes here, but the Ducks are an interesting case. Any way you look at the advanced analytics, it doesn’t look like the Ducks are much of a contender. The stats tell us the Ducks should have regressed (and disastrously so), but that’s not what we were seeing. This happened last year too, and the excuse was that the shortened season was too small of a sample size, and given a “real” season the Ducks would regress and fall flat. So we got the full season, and once again we didn’t see signs of regression, and there’s no real explanation for it. If you look at this season’s results and ignore the analytics, then it definitely looks like Anaheim is a contender. But you’re ignoring a big piece of the puzzle when you do that.
I definitely see the value in advanced analytics and they’re generally pretty telling. I just don’t know how the two-year anomaly that is Anaheim’s success fits in to that.
Evelhoch: As grating as this is to reference for most Anaheim fans, the Kings of 2012 proved that simply by getting in you have a legitimate chance at the title. That being said, even with this being the last ride of Selanne the team seems to be a season or two from true ‘favorite’ contending status as more of the talent down in Norfolk such as Emerson Etem, Rickard Rakell, Devante Smith-Pelley percolate into the places currently occupied by the likes of some of the elder statesmen. While the Ducks can win the Cup this season, things will have to shake out favorably matchup-wise for them to do so. It seems more like another year of a younger core getting more postseason experience.
3. How his Bruce Boudreau changed the culture of this team to the point where they are now a winner?
Dobias: Boudreau is of course a much more offensively-minded coach than what we were used to with Carlyle, and his style has made much more sense with the team dynamic Anaheim has now compared to Carlyle’s bang-em-up style. Carlyle’s style worked for the Ducks for quite a long time, but when the talent-balance started to tilt more towards offense (and younger players), Carlyle never adapted.
It appeared that Carlyle had let the player’s buy-in to a system that wasn’t working anymore anyway. Boudreau restored confidence in the team with a more appropriate system, and actively built up our rookies and integrated them in to the team, something Carlyle never seemed very willing to do. It doesn’t seem like that novel of an idea for a coach to utilize his rookies and build depth, but it was something that was missing in Anaheim.
Evelhoch: The idea that there isn’t a winning culture in Anaheim is one firmly rooted in the past. The Ducks have qualified for the postseason seven of the past ten seasons winning the Stanley Cup once, the Western Conference twice, and reaching the Western Conference Final three times; the only thing that’s new are back to back regular season division titles. Perhaps the biggest thing Boudreau’s done is loosen the reins on the players and allow all of them to play more to their skills rather than bash-to-fit a rigid system. Under Randy Carlyle the emphasis was on a defensive-first system keeping shots to the perimeter, with offense coming either on the counter or off dump and chase. The majority of ice time went to a major scoring line and splitting much of the rest between the second and checking line, with young players having an extremely tight leash. With Boudreau simply playing everyone and encouraging more free flowing offensive creativity, it’s allowed players like Andrew Cogliano, Bonino, Maroon, and Hampus Lindholm to flourish and the team to be able to play and win a multitude of ways.
4. What is the Ducks achilles heel?
Dobias: Special teams. Anaheim’s PP% ended at 16%, good for 22nd place in the league. Their penalty kill has been a bit better, but is still middle-of-the-road at 82.2%, 13th in the league. Surprisingly, both the PP and PK are marginally better than the Dallas Stars’, so this hopefully won’t be too big of an issue in the first round. But beyond that, it will definitely be a sore spot.
Evelhoch: Even though Jonas Hiller has stumbled down the stretch while rookies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson are entirely unproven in the playoffs, the defense corps in front of them is the biggest question mark. As the season has progressed the unit has had its ups and downs with Cam Fowler missing time down the stretch with an MCL sprain, and the pairings have been in a state of flux as a result. Without Fowler his regular partner Ben Lovejoy was significantly less effective, and players haven’t had constant partners as Boudreau has rotated rest for every defender. Whether or not the rookie Lindholm at 20 can physically hold up playing as many games as he has for the first time in his career is a legitimate question, though veterans like Francois Beauchemin and Stephane Robidas give the group steadying experience while Mark Fistric, Bryan Allen, and Luca Sbisa can be deployed as physical assets as needed. A point to keep an eye on are zone exits; the team is much better when the clearances are strong and passes to the forwards are crisp, but have struggled in that aspect some since the Stadium Series game.
5. How far do you see the Ducks going in the 2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Dobias: All the way to the freaking moon! But first, for Boudreau’s sake, let’s just focus on actually getting to the second round.
Evelhoch: While Dallas has the speed up front to give the Ducks trouble, I’m not sold that, despite his strong play against Anaheim last season, workhorse Kari Lehtonen is enough to steal a series behind a league lower-middle defense corps. If the other Pacific Semifinal between San Jose and Los Angeles is anything like last season’s series it will be a brutal, knockdown, drag out battle; the Ducks took four of the five meetings this year from the Kings, and went 2-2-1 against San Jose. With home ice advantage and a potentially weakened opponent I can see Anaheim winning the Pacific, but have my doubts whether they will then have enough left in the tank to get through the Western Conference Final, especially if it’s Chicago waiting for them there.
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