Ducks Season Preview

Posted: 10/04/2011 by bc in Uncategorized
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The talent is here to have a good season and make a deep run in the playoffs. In my opinion, these Ducks could even win the Stanley Cup. A lot has to go right of course but a Cup win isn’t out of the question.

First Jonas Hiller, among the top 5 goaltenders in the world has to stay healthy. Hillsy’s commitment to preparation is unparalleled. Despite being examined by some of the best medical minds on two continents no cause for the vertigo symptoms Jonas experienced last season have been diagnosed. They just don’t know. Those symptoms could reemerge anytime.

The team showed last season that it is good enough to earn a second season without Hiller. It also showed it can’t go deep into the playoffs without him.

Conventional wisdom dictates that Corey Perry and Lubomir Visnvosky won’t duplicate their career years of a season ago. No doubt any one of Alexander Ovechkin, Steve Stamkos or Sidney Crosby can walk away with the Richard and Hart trophies. Success on the ice isn’t measured by personal stats alone. Perry could actually be better this season but Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan will be the beneficiaries. Likewise for Lubo. Viz will QB the PP and play ES alongside Toni Lydman. Whether or not he sees substantial time on the PK as he did last season, remains to be seen. Lubo may not duplicate or exceed his 18 goal 50 assist performance of last season. A better measure of Visvovsky’s success than his personal stats is 1st unit PP efficiency and overall goal differential.

No doubt Corey Perry will draw more attention from opposition defenses. Lubo may not get as many second assists or goals. These personal achievements don’t necessarily dictate that the guys on the ice with them won’t be more successful. Like I always tell the kids, “It doesn’t matter who scores. It only matters that we score.”

Ryan Getzlaf arrived in camp in the best physical condition of his career. Duck fans have seen stretches lasting 25-30 games when the captain was far and away the most dominant player in the world. Can he be hockey’s most dominant player for 82 games and the playoffs? Getzy’s feet tell the story. If he’s skating then yes, Ryan Getzlaf is the most dominant player on the ice.

Is Francois Beauchemin really a genuine top 4 D-man you can send over the boards in all situations or is he just a lucky stiff who benefited playing alongside Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger? At 31 years of age, Beauch is still young enough to earn another multimillion multi-year contract. He has to show it this year though.

Like teammate Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan’s stats have improved in each of his first three seasons. Is this Ryan’s breakout year? I’ve been predicting 40 goal, point per game seasons for Ryan two years running. No reason to stop now. One of these years, he’ll get there  and probably beyond. Ryan’s game without the puck can stand some improvement. With the puck, he’s among the best, one on one in the world. Taking responsibility and being a tad more selfish with the biscuit will produce better results.

Hiller, Perry, Getzlaf, Visnovsky & Ryan comprise the core of our Ducks hockey team. The support crew is led by Teemu Selanne. These days the Finnish Flash gets it done almost exclusively as PP specialist. Sixteen of Teemu’s thirty-one goals last season came on the PP, better than half of his scoring. ES, Selanne has been less effective in each of his recent seasons. Frankly, I’m not certain if that’s a result of his linemates or if Teemu is beginning to show his 41 years. Regardless of the reason, we need more ES scoring. Our Ducks are too dependent on the on the 1st unit PP.

Saku Koivu’s numbers have been in decline in consecutive seasons. Last season was the first time he failed to break 50 points since 1999-00. In 2000-01 Koivu registered 47 points in 54 games, so that should be considered a great season. The question is does he still have a 50 pt year in him? Secondary scoring is more important that primary scoring. You know the top guns will get their points. It’s the support guys who make the difference between winning and losing.

Whatever decline in production is evident among our vets, the hope is the young guns or third line anchored at least initially by Andrew Cogliano and Andrew Gordon pickup the slack.

Rounding out the offense Cam Fowler and Kurtis foster have to meet their respective challenges. For Fowler it’s avoid the sophomore jinx, improve his play without the puck and duplicate his 10 goal 40 point performance of a year ago. We don’t need Kurtis Foster to match his 8 goal 42 point output with Tampa Bay in 2009-10. If as a direct result of Foster’s presence the 2nd PP unit is more effective, that will be huge.

Our Ducks play without the puck was an issue all of last season. We don’t necessarily need another plus-30 season from Toni Lydman so long as (1) Jonas Hiller remains healthy, (2) Beauchemin and Getzlaf cut down on their near league leading turnovers, (3) Cam Fowler avoids the sophomore jinx and (4) our guys continue to cut down on the stupid penalties. It’s no secret to anyone that the single most significant contributing factor in Corey Perry’s awesome second half is that he stayed out of the box.

The obvious change from last season is in team speed, especially on the third and fourth lines. Other improvements are more subtle. Transition from the back line should be improved with the addition of Foster. Luca Sbisa is now firmly established as top six NHL d-man and should show improvement in his decision-making. Commitment to conditioning from the Big Three should be, if not contagious, in the least a good example of what’s expected.

As Coach Mike Babcock is fond of saying, “We need our best players to be our best players.” After that we need our support and role players to contribute as they have each proven they can. The key with the 2011-12 edition of our Anaheim Ducks is that the expectation for each player is reasonable. We’re not asking more from anyone than they haven’t shown they can accomplish.

This team is capable of finishing 4th or better in the West, second or better in the Pacific and reaching the WCF or beyond in the playoffs. Whether they do or not depends on many variables of which health in the playoffs is first and foremost.

  1. czhokej says:

    It’s nice and refreshing to read something optimistic after my negative comments previously posted. I do not know why I focus so much on weaknesses and problems. Maybe I do not want to be disappointed and I just hope to be pleasantly surprised.

  2. bbdux93 says:

    I think I’m somewhere in between CZ & BC. I want to believe we can suceed with the team we have, but taking from CZ’s thoughts in his previous post, I’m not so sure we can without a strong checking line.

    About our defense – after having seen the best – how does one settle for less… “Frankie” was a disappointment last season and Lydman was a nice surprise. After having seen what Chris & Scottie did for that team as a whole, I am concerned our defense is still missing some of what they each brought to our game.

  3. czhokej says:

    I agree bb. It’s my nostalgia. It was like a beautiful music, like a symphonic orchestra playing in perfect harmony. They (I mean Chris and Scotty, when they were playing together, preserving a one-goal lead) could stay on the ice for more than 30 minutes a game, 3 minute shifts, complementing each other. Scotty’s skating was like a ballet, he could carry the puck better than 99% of NHL players, – very often I wished he was our forward. Pronger’s positioning, long outlet passes, and physicality was a piece of art itself. I cannot get over it.
    Lydman is good, I like him a lot, others were making too many mistakes – that includes Lubo, Fowler, Sbisa, Brookbank, Beauch. If Fowler and Sbisa learned from the past season, and show enough maturity, there is a hope. I do not know what to expect from Smaby and Foster, both of them had bad injuries.

  4. BackCheck says:

    Hey Buds,

    A couple-few things I find intriguing about our Ducks in no particular order are:

    Randy Carlyle is using the phrase “puck possession” in place of “puck management.” This is a subtle difference that could speak volumes. Look for our guys to get away from the dump and chase in favor of carrying the puck across the opposition blue line. We’ll still be primarily a grind team but I sense we’re going to mix it up more this season. Become less predictable. Emphasis on puck possession may also be influenced by Toni Lydman who talks about “eating the puck” instead of tossing it into some “safe area.” All puck possession systems rely in significant part on maintaining a shorter gap between the forwards and the D.

    Emphasizing puck management v. puck possession has always struck me as conflicting with other aspects of RC’s system. Specifically, positioning one D-man forward in the neutral zone, pressuring the puck carrier and of course that cherry picking stretch pass.

    This D-corp, Visnovsky, Lydman, Fowler, Beauchemin, Sbisa & Foster brings transition from the back line not seen since the days of Pronger – Niedermayer. Transition from the D is the single most important factor in the team game. If you can’t make that first pass and skate the puck up ice you’re done like a bad toothache. Pre-lockout you could predict with near certainty virtually all 2nd year players would go through the sophomore jinx. That just isn’t so true anymore. Look for Cam Fowler to significantly reduce his minus-25 from a year ago while maintaining his offensive production. My hopes are that Francois Beauchemin can cut down on his giveaways and those (((DOH))) moments; Luca Sbisa establishes himself as a guy who consistently dominates his zone and Kurtis Foster improves PP efficiency.

    Hopefully (((touch wood))) Jonas Hiller will play 60-65 regular season games and carry the bulk of the work in the playoffs.

    The commitment to conditioning from the Big 3 can’t be understated. When your best players are also your hardest workers that work ethic just permeates through an organization.

    These are my primary reasons for being hopeful. What are seeing now is the change I expected to see after the Pronger trade. This edition of our Ducks could well be 25-35 goals better than the 235 they netted last season. Likewise, if we’re scoring more we’re probably spending more time in the opposition end of the rink. Consequently we can expect the goal differential to improve as well.

    Would I call our 2011-12 Ducks a Cup contender? Nope, but their chances are certainly better than the 25/30 to 1 shot given our guys by the sports books, betting public and mainstream media.

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