The Anaheim Ducks have set a a standard of excellence for themselves in 2014-15 with a dominant regular season and a nearly undefeated post-season. They weren’t anywhere near that standard in game one of the Western Conference Final though, at times looking lost in their own zone and with the puck on their sticks. Were it not for the heroics of Frederik Andersen, there’s little doubt that Anaheim would be trailing in this series. Here are two crucial adjustments they will have to make in order to advance to the Stanley Cup Final:
2. Rakell Line Has To Elevate Its Game
Much was made over the contributions of the Ducks’ fourth line in game one thanks to Kyle Palmieri and Nate Thompson both potting important goals. Yet all the buzz prior to puck drop was centered around Bruce Boudreau reuniting Jiri Sekac, Rickard Rakell, and Emerson Etem together on the Ducks third line.
The trio proved to be highly ineffective, as each player posted a negative shot attempt differential. They showed flashes of offense here and there, but not nearly what Boudreau had in mind when reuniting them. Perhaps it was rust, with Sekac playing his first game of the playoffs. The success they had in the regular season leaves room for optimism, but time is ticking.
1. The Breakout Must Improve
The Ducks were aboslutely stifled in game one when it came to breaking the puck out of their zone. Chicago’s forecheck was excellent in recognizing Anaheim’s weaknesses, but much of the Ducks’ malaise was self-inflicted. Too often, defensemen would hang back in the defensive zone looking to make a breakout pass, leaving a gigantic gap for Chicago to exploit. It got so bad at one point that the NBC crew was able to make a montage of Anaheim’s terrible breakout during the broadcast.
Ask any hockey coach at any level of play what a breakout needs to do to be successful, and more often than not you will get some form of this answer: “Move your feet”. The Ducks defensemen seemed to be allergic to that mantra in game one, as they refused to skate the puck out of the zone. Boudreau needs to encourage the likes of Hampus Lindholm and Cam Fowler to rush the puck forward, forcing the Blackhawks’ forecheck to sag off in fear of allowing an odd-man break.
A good breakout is a harmonious synchronization between defensemen and forwards, with both working as one to move the play into the other teams’ zone. Watch footage of the Red Army teams if you want a visual example. For the Ducks to beat an ultra-talented Chicago team in this series, they simply have to adjust their breakout, or they will continue to be bottled up in their zone for the majority of play. With all the skating ability that Boudreau has at his disposal on the blueline, this shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish.