The most under the radar team in the Western conference (and possibly the entire NHL), has to be the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks boast arguably the best line in hockey – The “RPG” line. Bobby Ryan, reigning league MVP Corey Perry, and talent laden center Ryan Getzlaf.
RW Teemu Selanne continues to defy father time, and at age 41, remains one of the best pure scorers in the league.
The real unheralded strength of the team lies not with the top forwards, but the “other guys” – Maxime Macenaur, Andrew Gordon, Brandon MacMillan, Devante Smith-Pelly, Andrew Cogliano,and Jason Blake provide endless energy on the ice.
The dilemna for the opposition, night in and night out, will be which poison to choose. Anaheim has a roster with players who can kill you on the scoreboard, and players who may not score as often, but will outwork you every shift. Much of the third period momentum this season, should belong to the Ducks
The shaky blueline which contributed to a horrific start last season, has been solidified. 19 year-old phenom Cam Fowler is becoming more and more steady, under the watchful eye of future 1st ballot hall of famer Scott Niedermayer. Fowler and rock solid vet Francois Beauchemin (a member of the 2007 Cup-winning Ducks) anchor the D. Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman also provide steady reliable defense, and Lubo was a scoring machine last season. Both pairings boast a good puck mover, and a solid stopper. The third pairing, is Sheldon Brookbank and 21 year old Luca Sbisa. Sbisa also has tremendous upside potential.
As for the most important position on the ice, Jonas Hiller seems to have overcome his battle with vertigo which sidelined him in early February 2011, and caused him to miss the rest of the season and playoffs. The 29 year old swiss netminder seemed well on his way to being a Vezina/MVP candidate, before he was stricken. Hiller has looked nothing short of brilliant through the first few games of the 2011-12 season. Jonas has never left any doubt as to his abilities to compete at a high level, ever since he supplanted the incumbent J.S. Giguere in 2009.
The team 40 miles north made most of the offseason headlines, with the blockbuster trade for Mike Richards and the free agent signing of Simon Gagne. The Los Angeles Kings are a trendy pick to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Lost in the hype, is that during the last 3 months of the 2010-11 season, Anaheim played some of the best hockey in the league. Had it not been for the slow start, they may very well have won the Pacific division.
Ducks fans have plenty of reason to be optimistic. The good start to this season is no fluke, rather the Ducks are merely picking up where they left off.