— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) May 1, 2014
Wait, didn’t the Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings four out of five times this year?
Of course, my hunch might be proven wrong within 24 hours and supply comic fodder—with some luck!—for generations of netizens. But pundits don’t predict sweeps enough anyway. Let’s take a gander across the Pond. [FYI: Here’s the LA Kings Schedule]
The Ducks have been tasking the Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry and Andrew Cogliano-Saku Koivu pairs with its toughest minutes for years. Cam Fowler-Ben Lovejoy was the preferred matchup against the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin-Jamie Benn, though Francois Beauchemin is also heavily used. In net, the looming question is who’ll start the series…and who’ll finish it? Impressive rookie Frederik Andersen proved wanting in the first round and was eventually pulled for veteran Jonas Hiller.
Bruce Boudreau and Darryl Sutter aren’t afraid of going strength against strength, so expect a lot of Getzlaf versus Anze Kopitar. Historically, Kopitar has dominated his counterpart:
(Corsi For % compares 5v5 Even Strength all shots attempted versus shots against when a player is on the ice. Generally, better than 50% is good; it means you have the puck more than your opponents.)
Kopitar is on top of his game, so it’s hard to imagine which Ducks can handle him, including Fowler or Beauchemin:
Getzlaf—in an admittedly small sample size—has struggled recently against Los Angeles with nine points (3-6-9) in 14 games (2011-14). Kopitar’s work is one reason. Drew Doughty, who will see Getzlaf as much as Sutter can manage, is another:
Koivu faced exceedingly tough minutes during the season. To give you an idea:
You’ll see Koivu on the far left, which represents how much more he started action in Anaheim’s defensive zone. However, lost in the Ducks’ conference-pacing regular season was some deterioration in his game:
(Fenwick Close For/Against measures unblocked shots by a player or team in “close” game situations where the score is tied in any period or within one goal in the first or second periods. This helps remove score effects, which are the result of a team in a defensive shell or gambling to score goals.)
However, as mentioned, he endured tough minutes:
(Corsi Relative Quality of Competition compares 5v5 Even Strength all shots attempted versus shots against when a player is on the ice, relative to teammates and opposition.)
Boudreau may have noticed some decline, as Koivu almost played himself out of the lineup in the last round. The Ducks should keep this line away from Kopitar, but they’ll still be seriously challenged. How they hold up against Jeff Carter and Jarret Stoll’s lines is a series key.
Exploiting Willie Mitchell’s Absence
Interestingly, when Matt Greene took Mitchell’s place in Game Seven against the San Jose Sharks, he only played 12:43 (compared to Mitchell’s usual 20 minutes). A proven penalty killer, he posted a surprisingly low 1:18 short handed time on ice even though San Jose enjoyed six power plays.
So who ate Mitchell’s PK minutes? Robyn Regehr gutted out 7:09, Drew Doughty 5:58, and Slava Voynov 5:21. But after those regulars, would you believe Jake Muzzin registered a 3:12 (after averaging 0:25 in the regular season)? Is this a sign of increasing trust from the coaching staff? If so, the youngster, who has never been a PK regular, will certainly be targeted by the Ducks.
While I wasn’t concerned with Greene as a one-game substitute for Mitchell, a heavy reliance on the limited but physical defender will spell trouble for Los Angeles. He’s not a top-four guy, so consequently, Muzzin indeed becomes the top candidate to pick up Mitchell’s slack.
The Battle of Rolling Lines
One of Anaheim’s strengths this season has been the ability to roll four dangerous lines. There is a belief, however, that their bottom six forwards have benefited from tremendous shooting luck. That said, less-used 5v5 attackers like Mathieu Perreault (27 goals/146 5v5 shots, 18.5 shooting %, 2009-13) and Kyle Palmieri (13 goals/119 5v5 shots, 10.9, 2009-13) have some history of efficient shooting. And Patrick “Whatta” Maroon is a legitimate, if sheltered, talent.
Sutter’s masterstroke against Todd McLellan was deploying Justin Williams on the third line; Williams responded with four goals in four wins. That, along with freeing Tanner Pearson and inserting Mike Richards on the fourth line—moves which had been successful at the end of the regular season—have balanced LA’s attack. They should be able to match the Ducks forwards stride for stride. Richards, who posted the team’s highest 5v5 Fenwick Close (66.1%) against the Sharks (in easier minutes) should continue to mash weaker competition.
What About the Regular Season?
What about the regular season? Take a look at 5v5 Fenwick Close in Los Angeles-Anaheim games this year:
Then consider that four of these games were decided by one goal and Ducks goalies posted an unsustainable .962 save %. The Kings also outshot their rivals 186-114.
Of course, any team can win a seven-game series—bounces and circumstances in so few games can never be accurately forecast—but this is my case for the Kings.
As for sweeping, if Kopitar, Doughty, and Jonathan Quick keep it up and the Ducks are dazed by another goaltending carousel, this will be a short series.
After losing four of five regular season games to Anaheim’s #DuckLuck, another #ReverseSweep seems in order here!
Odds & Ends
- Boudreau has the highest regular season points earned % (.663) of any NHL coach (250+ gms) without at least one conference finals appearance, even if shootout wins=ties and overtime losses=regular losses (.607 adj.). Following Boudreau in relative futility is Dave Lewis (.570 adj.) and Robbie Ftorek (.567 adj.).
- The Ducks were not a good road power play squad. Their 13% success rate placed them 27th in the league (18.4% at home).
- Anaheim posted a strong 40-1-2 record leading after the second period. Even more impressively, they were the only team in the league with a better than .500 record trailing after the first period (23-15-2).
- Recently, I’ve questioned Voynov’s legitimacy as the second most-used defenseman on a championship contender. Though saddled by playing with Regehr, the San Jose series did nothing to strengthen his claim. The Ducks don’t have as many high-end forwards as the Sharks, so I think the Russian defender should have an easier time of it. But against the Chicago Blackhawks?