After finally breaking their Game 7 curse, the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Edmonton Oilers and moved on to the Western Conference Final to face the Nashville Predators, the Ducks’ toughest challenge yet.
During the regular season, the Ducks had the upper hand against the Preds, winning two of their three match-ups, once in a shootout. The first two games were decided by decisive victories. The Ducks defeated the Predators 6-1, then the Predators got their revenge by shutting out the Ducks 5-0.
However, during the playoffs, the Predators have arguably been the strongest team, sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round then taking down the St. Louis Blues in the next. Their defense is adept at shutting down opposing offense before they have a chance to enter the Predators’ zone. They’ve allowed the fewest goals of the remaining four teams with 14. The next fewest is the Penguins at 31.
Game 1 on Friday demonstrated that. The Ducks were kept at 29 shots in a 3-2 overtime defeat. The Predators’ neutral zone trap prevented the Ducks from getting much on the net. That, and they missed many key opportunities by missing the net altogether.
The Resurrection of Pekka Rinne
The low amount of goals allowed by the Predators is also due to their stellar goaltender, Pekka Rinne, who has been the best netminder in the playoffs. His performance has been highlighted by two consecutive shutouts in the first round against the Blackhawks. He then allowed only three more goals in the rest of the short series. He leads the remaining goalies in both save percentage with .951 and goals-against average with 1.37. The only goalie with slightly better stats is the Calgary Flames backup, Chad Johnson, who played one game.
During Game 1, he continued his dominant postseason performance and still hasn’t allowed more than three goals. The Ducks are going to need to put some well-placed shots on net because Rinne doesn’t allow many weak goals.
At 34-years-old, many people believe that Rinne, although still one of the best goaltenders in the league, has begun to slow down. At the beginning of the season, it appeared this way. In October, he had five straight losses, in four of those game he allowed four or more goals, including the 6-1 decision against the Ducks. He picked it up the next month and never allowed more than three goals. For more game by game analysis, check this out.
Rinne had a bumpy year but has been playing spectacularly of late, which poses a problem to the Ducks. Last year during the playoffs, they faced the Predators in the first round and were eliminated largely thanks to Rinne. Because of this, it is important that the Ducks attack the net as often as possible, especially during power plays which have been suffering during the playoffs.
Power Play Problems
The Ducks’ power play is the worst out of the remaining teams. Although they have scored five goals with the man advantage, they have been given 36 opportunities, bringing them to an atrocious 13.9 percentage. During the second round series against the Oilers, the Ducks were 2-for-23. Even though the Ducks have solved their regular season scoring problem, they still struggle on the power play.
The Ducks’ problem? Sometimes they resort to playing keep away instead of actually shooting at the net. During February, the Ducks only tallied one power play goal off of 32 opportunities. It improved slightly at the end of the season. From the beginning of March to the start of the postseason, the Ducks scored ten goals from 57 opportunities. During that time, Randy Carlyle accused the team of passing too much.
What has helped during the playoffs is Ryan Getzalf’s newfound ability to actually shoot the puck. As a playmaker, Getzlaf has always had a pass-first mentality. But lately, he has been shooting more and even contributed one of the two power play goals during the Oilers series. Check it out:
Oilers defenceman, Kris Russell, obviously expected Getzlaf to pass to Patrick Eaves. If Getzlaf has passed, it may not have been a goal and perhaps Russell would have ended up with the puck. It’s hockey 101. You can’t score if you don’t shoot.
Yet, Game 1 shows that the problem has persisted. The Ducks were given four power plays and converted on none of them, barely even managing to set up in the Predators’ zone. However, the power play units aren’t the special team that requires more attention.
Penalty Kill Killing the Ducks
Even though the Ducks successfully killed off a 5-on-3 penalty against the Preds and the three other power play opportunities the Predators had, this doesn’t mean that their penalty kill woes are solved. The Ducks’ penalty kill was great during the regular season, but it has taken a major beating during the playoffs.
The Ducks are now the second worst playoff team at killing penalties, the worst being the Columbus Blue Jackets. They have a 69 percent penalty kill after allowing 13 goals, by far the most in the league. It doesn’t help that the Ducks are shorthanded fairly often.
The Predators aren’t spectacular with the man advantage, but honestly, they don’t have to be with the way the Ducks have been playing. Nashville has a 20 percent power play success rate, after scoring five goals. That may be the same amount as the Ducks, but they have had more than 10 fewer opportunities.
What has been going wrong?
For one, the Ducks aren’t planting themselves in shooting lanes. Take a look at this goal by Mark Letestu:
Sami Vatanen loses his stick, and although he attempts to block off Letestu’s shooting lane, he isn’t really close. If Vatanen had actually planted himself between Letestu and the net, it wouldn’t have been a goal.
Against the Predators, the Ducks special teams must improve. The power play needs to be an effective tool to beat Rinne, and since he’s been playing so well, the Ducks need to take advantage when they have an extra attacker. As for the penalty kill, the Ducks have lost games this postseason because of it. It desperately needs to improve if the Ducks want to see the Stanley Cup Final.