Chicago, IL —
The Chicago Blackhawks experienced something they are unaccustomed to. They were swept by the Anaheim Ducks this regular season in three very close games. If the Blackhawks want to be the Western Conference Champions and punch a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals they will have to solve the enigma that is the Anaheim Ducks.
In the three contests that Chicago has dropped to Anaheim there is a good chance that the losses could just have been the result of the hockey gods not favoring the Hawks. Since all of the games were close it could just simply be a case of bad bounces, missed calls or missing key players. Besides the playoffs are a much different animal than the regular season anyway right?
Then again the same could have been said about last years playoffs against Phoenix and we all know the Blackhawks didn’t like those results.
The one thing these losses have given us is a glimpse at Anaheim’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. The Blackhawks need to go to school on this and they have. The Hawks knew coming into their final meeting with the Ducks that they needed to score on them early. It was the execution that was not achieved.
Some observations for the Blackhawks to ponder before the playoffs on who is turning out to likely be their chief nemeses in the post season.
Anaheim Ducks Strengths
Shot blocking – they are third in the NHL in blocked shots which means their goalies do not have to face as many shots and their defenseman are hard to get through or around. The solution, keep shooting and try to get as many shots as possible on their goalies some are bound to get through. Fake shots and either pass off or reload and shoot once you get their defense out of position.
Power Play – the Ducks are currently fourth in the league in PP % so you need to stay out of the penalty box. This is not surprising with the snipers Anaheim has in Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. The Hawks for the last two meetings stayed out of the box for the most part and will need to continue that if they meet in the playoffs.
Transitioning – The Ducks transition from defense to offense very well maybe the best in the league due to they are always clogging up the neutral zone and cause giveaways there. They have been successful in negating the Hawks speed by plugging up the middle. To counter this the Hawks need to move quickly through the neutral zone or chip and chase. In the three games it seems the chip and chase method has worked best or have a Dman carry the puck up like Keith or Leddy.
Positioning – The Ducks are rarely out of position defensively and give you very little space to maneuver. They are never outmanned especially low in their own zone. They use their size and physicality very well to muscle or shield the puck. They are very good at anticipating passing lanes to break up passes. What can a team do to counter? This one is difficult and maybe the key to solving the Anaheim puzzle. The Hawks need to support better when dumping in Ducks zone and try to get the Ducks out of position. How? Using decoys and when dumping get in quickly and with more men. When passing don’t make the telegraphed pass try something different. Try to get shots on the goalie and look for rebounds
Anaheim Ducks Weaknesses
Slow starters – the Ducks give up a lot of goals in the first period and do not score much themselves in the first. The Hawks need to get on them early and throw everything at them in the first period. The Ducks get stronger as the game goes on. The third period is the strongest whereas the Hawks get worse as games go on. Their lowest scoring is in the third period.
Penalty Kill – The Ducks are not good on the PK they are ranked 25th. With a man down they can not support down low as well. The Blackhawks must take advantage of every extra man opportunity they get against them. Unfortunately the Hawks power play could stand improvement which will be critical in the playoffs. The Hawks must get sustained pressure in the Ducks zone and stay on them. The Ducks are one of the higher penalized teams so the Hawks must fix their powerplay.
Unbalanced Attack – The Ducks get the majority of their scoring from their stars and from their forwards so those are the Ducks to key on. Unlike the Blackhawks whose defenseman are scoring threats the Ducks primarily rely on their forwards and their centers are the most accurate in shooting percentage. The Hawks need to take a page from the Ducks and support each other better down low and in the middle of their own zone.
Low takeaways – For the most part this team is very low in takeaways probably because they tend to stay back and defend their own zone and the neutral zone. Specifically Winnik, Getzlaf and Ryan stay away from their sticks and just make sure not to turn the puck over yourself. Too many times the Hawks beat themselves with giveaways either in their own zone or the center ice area.
- Two out of the three contests the Blackhawks were missing two top six forwards in Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa but in the first meeting both forwards were there and the Hawks still lost. So the Hawks must not think that just getting Sharp and Hossa back will solve their problems with Anaheim.
- The Hawks have used both goaltenders with the same results meaning the issues need to be solved up front and not in nets. Their problems are 5 on 5. The Hawks have only scored one goal 5 on 5 and that was by Saad in the first game.
- Late game goals have been their demise in two of the three and one in a shoot out. The Blackhawks have to somehow find a way to get stronger as games go on and get sharper and more focused.
- The Hawks try too hard at home to put on a show and need to simplify their games especially against bigger more physical teams. If they just get pucks to the net and crash the net they should do better.
The playoffs will be similar to the games the Hawks have played against Anaheim hopefully now they have enough film and know what it takes to close on this team. Getting Hossa and Sharp back should help especially on the power play which the Blackhawks must ramp up come playoff time. A seven game series with these guys should be great the Blackhawks just need to realize the Ducks are not going to let them play their game and fly through the neutral zone and use their speed so they must make adjustments. If the Blackhawks believe they can beat the Ducks they can and will.