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MOP Squad on the Stanley Cup Final Part One: The Ducks
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
May 28, 2007 - 4:14:41 AM

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How the West Was Won: No one’s going to suggest that getting to the Stanley Cup Finals is easy. But when the Ducks dispatched Minnesota and Vancouver in five games apiece, they made it look easy. True, the Ducks didn’t really blow either of those teams out in any of their contests, but rarely did they ever look out of control either, dominating defensively and getting as much offense as was necessary to win. The Ducks did look a bit challenged by Detroit; after splitting the first two games Anaheim lost game three 5-0 at home. But paradoxically, losing that badly proved a turning point in their favour. A game five come-from-behind OT win was a particularly gutsy performance, as the Ducks tied the score with less than a minute left before winning 2-1. They’ve played five overtime games in the playoffs so far and won four. Eleven of their sixteen games have been decided by just one goal, and they’ve won nine. This ability to win the close ones is remarkable, especially when you consider that their power play is scoring at a decidedly unremarkable 15.3% rate, and no single player on their team has more than five goals. It’s a great team game, made all the more amazing by the fact that their fourth line, usually Brad May, Shawn Thornton and Ryan Shannon, is usually on the ice for less than five minutes a night and their third defense pairing, Kent Huskins and either Joe Dipenta or Rick Jackman, is on for less than ten, both very small numbers.

Heroes: But because those guys play so little Anaheim’s big guns necessarily play a lot. Chris Pronger, perhaps the Ducks leading playoff MVP candidate, leads a blueline trio which includes Scott Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin who are all in the top five in average ice time, all over 30 minutes a game. Pronger’s average is an astronomical 31:16, a level that would be impossible for almost anyone else to maintain, and he also leads the team with 14 points. Up front their best has been Ryan Getzlaf and Sami Pahlsson. Getzlaf looks more and more like a superstar in the making, and three of his five goals in the playoffs have been game-winners. Pahlsson has been brilliant playing against the opponent’s best lines, and has also managed ten points, good for fourth on the team. And finally, Jean-Sebastian Giguere has been nothing short of amazing in goal. He’s looked completely unbeatable at times and may well be on his way to a second Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP, which he won in 2003 in a losing cause.

Goats: It’s hard to criticize on a team that’s in the Finals, but Anaheim’s offense is averaging half a goal less than they scored during the regular season and it has to be a bit of a concern. Leading the way in the scoring-way-less-than-he-was category is first-line centre Andy McDonald, who had 78 points during the season but has just seven so far in the playoffs. Second-line winger Dustin Penner had 29 goals during the season and played very well in last year’s playoffs as a rookie, but has looked uncomfortable at times this year and has just two goals. And while Scott Niedermayer’s been good, he hasn’t been great; averaging 30:26 of ice time a game, he’s looked tired at times and he’s even been beaten to loose pucks at times, unusual for one of the league’s best skaters.

Specials: Anaheim’s penalty killing has been very good. It was particularly great against Minnesota and Vancouver, allowing just three power play goals against in ten games. But against the Red Wings it allowed nine goals on 40 opportunities, a major factor in their losses to the Wings. Their power play, meanwhile, didn’t score at all until the last three games of the Detroit series. It scored a bit more often against the Wild and Canucks, but at 15.3% it’s only seventh best among playoff teams and running significantly lower than it was during the regular season, when it scored at a 22.4% clip. However, the power play has scored some big goals for the team, such as the tying goal in game five against the Wings, the winner in game four of that series, the winning goal in game three against the Canucks, and the series-winning goal in the first round against Minnesota. So if the power play keeps scoring such crucial goals, scoring on it more often doesn’t really matter.

What Needs to Go Right: Anaheim’s fortunate to have home-ice advantage in this series, because matching lines has been their strategy all playoff long and it’ll be even more critical they get the right matchups this series. Even without home-ice against Detroit head coach Randy Carlyle managed to get his checking line out against Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom more often than not, and that was a big factor, just as it was when they went up against Vancouver’s Sedin twins in the second round, just as it was when they shut down Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra in the first round. Whether the checking line can shut down Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson just as thoroughly remains to be seen, but even if they can shut them down a little it would help a lot, and getting the right matchup to allow them to do so will be important.

What Could Go Wrong: At what point does fatigue set in for the Ducks? We’ve already talked about Niedermayer and how he’s looked tired at times. Beauchemin and Pronger haven’t yet, not really, but considering how much they’ve played they still might. Both teams had a lot of days off between the third round and the final, but the Ducks have the only significant injury: top-line winger Chris Kunitz likely won’t be back. The Ducks don’t have a lot of forward depth to begin with, and Kunitz being out means even more ice time for guys like Getzlaf, Selanne, Pahlsson, and McDonald. Anaheim hardly plays their fourth line at all, putting even more pressure on these guys, and while the ice time numbers aren’t as dramatic for them as they are for the defensemen, fatigue could be a problem there too, especially if another one of Anaheim’s top nine forwards gets hurt.

Look for the second part of MOP’s Stanley Cup Finals Preview on the Senators and the third part detailing how the team’s match up and MOP’s prediction of who’ll win. The Stanley Cup Final begins Monday, May 26th at 8 PM EST.

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