Chicago, IL — Anaheim, CA the OC known for housing theme parks, strip malls and Disney. Do they even play hockey there? Yes indeed they do and very well thank you very much. Do not assume that California is not synonymous with hockey as that state is home to three NHL teams all of which are very competitive.
The Anaheim Ducks are the first Blackhawks challenger that I will look at outside of the Central Division. The Ducks are in the Western Conferences’ highly competitive Pacific division along with the San Jose Sharks, LA Kings, Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars. This division sent all of its teams except Dallas to the playoffs last year and barring a collapse to Minnesota in the last game of the year Dallas should have gone to the playoffs as well. What this indicates to me is Anaheim knows how to claw their way and will not back down or be any easy opponent for anyone. They finished second in their division last year behind San Jose and remember they won the Stanley Cup in the 2006/07 campaign so the Ducks know how to win.
Our Blackhawks will face them four times this year and historically have really not played their best against this team. In the past three years their record is 6-6 dead even as it was last year 2-2 with the Hawks eking out a OT victory. In 2009-2010 the series went to Anaheim 3-1 and in 2008-2009 the script was reversed with Hawks winning the series 3-1.1 Based on the win/lose column you would have to say that the Ducks are the Hawks compeer and deserve further analysis. Like the Hawks, the Ducks got bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by Nashville.
The Ducks are somewhat of an enigma with many questions surrounding their team which I will address but lets deal with the tangibles first – the stats. The Ducks ended up the 2010 season ranked 4th overall in the Western Conference with 99 points. Again like Nashville this was only two points better than the Blackhawks’ 97 points. As a team the Ducks ranked 11th overall on offence and 20th on Defense. Their PK ranked 19th and the PP was 3rd in the league. As we can see the offence is the strength of this team and they arguably have the best forward line in the NHL with Perry, Getzlaf and Ryan. I know Blackhawks fans at this point are saying yeah but we have Kane, Toews and Sharp. So lets compare these two top lines:
As we can see the Ducks have an advantage in this area. Both top lines also are young and have at the center position their teams captains in Getzlaf and Toews. The only difference is that Getzlaf had some injuries and has only played in 60+ games each of the last two seasons. Also the Ducks could improve their FO % of 47.7% which ranks among the lowest in the NHL at 26th overall. 2
What makes the Ducks difficult to assess is there are many questions that engulf them. The primary one is the health of their players and the injuries going into the 2011-12 season. Jonas Hiller is the key, will he be able to spend significant time in goal for the Ducks or will he lose his battle with vertigo. As a hockey fan I’m hoping Hiller will return in goal for the entire season as the Ducks are completely different with him in net. The other question is Teemu Selanne will he or won’t he be returning? Another 80 points I’m sure the Ducks will be hard pressed to replace if Teemu does not return. The Ducks did little in their off season that improved their team.
With all of the variables noted it makes it difficult to know what team you will actually get. The Hawks must just focus on themselves and play their best. Their defense is better this year which should give them the edge. They will need to put forth a better defensive effort especially against the Ducks. The only constant is – Corey Perry, who they must blanket like a new born baby and still the Hawks can only hope to slow him down as I don’t think anyone can really stop him. Perry won both the Hart and the Rocket Richard trophies. The Hart trophy is given to the player judged to be most valuable to his team and the Richard trophy is given to the player that is the highest goal scorer. If the Bolland line can slow Perry down it could be the crucial component to slowing the Ducks.
The Hawks PK was awful last year and as I’ve note before they must improve this and especially against the high flying Ducks who had a banner year in 2010 on the PP and will surely make the Hawks pay. With all of the changes on the blue line the Hawks should be improved on the D and they will need to be when facing the Ducks. If they can slow down the top line it is surprising how the Ducks lack depth behind them. In fact their defencemen Visnovsky and Fowler had the most points on the team outside of the top forward line.
Don’t be surprised if these two teams again split their games in the regular season where the Hawks can shine is in the playoffs. The Hawks have some kind of juju when the stakes are the highest. Pressure seems to push them to their best while Anaheim seems to fade but this is all subject to if Hiller is playing in goal or not. Once the season begins hopefully some of these questions will be answered but it is imperative that the Blackhawks do not underestimate the Ducks or think they will be an easy mark.
I know your all thinking weren’t the Mighty Ducks a fictitious hockey team in some Disney kids movie? Can anything coming from the land of Disney be taken seriously? When our Hawks go to Anaheim are they secretly going to Never Land as ordinary mortals and will they be wrapped up in the fantasy land of imps, fairies, pirates and of course Peter Pan? Is Corey Perry tinkerbell who moves at the speed of light? Is Ryan Getzlaf Peter Pan who flies around the ice being the leader of his band of Lost Boys? If there is any team that can dive into that fantasy world and come out of it unscathed it is the Blackhawks. A team themselves symbolized by a magical tribe leader’s Indianhead; tribal chants (Chelsea Dagger); ritual (National Anthem cheers); and equipped with supernatural powers Patrick Kane’s puck passing and Johnny Toews’ will. The wonderful thing about Disney and fantasy is anything can become possible, and so it is with these two teams.
1 taken from NHL’s website — http://www.NHL.com
2 taken from the Hockey News Yearbook