The question: How are the Ducks going to defend against Connor McDavid?
The answer: Apparently by throwing every player on the ice at him, while forgetting about everyone else.
All anyone could talk about before Game 1 of the match-up between the Ducks and the Edmonton Oilers was how they were planning on defending against superstar Connor McDavid. The obvious answer was Ryan Kesler, who is known as one of the peskiest shutdown centers in the league. And he did his job, for the most part. He clung to McDavid so much so that Saran Wrap could take a lesson.
Was it effective? Sure it was, kind of.
McDavid was kept to one assist, but in an effort to frustrate him with their physicality, the Ducks took two of their five penalties against him, one of which lead to a power play goal. The Oilers finished with two goals on the man advantage in their 5-3 defeat of the Ducks, giving them their first regulation loss since March 10 and their first loss in the 2017 playoffs.
Stay Out of the Box
That will be an important key to this series for the Ducks. During the regular season, Anaheim had one of the best penalty kill units in the league, finishing fourth with a 84.7 percentage. But, that once strong component of their game took a beating against the Calgary Flames in the first round. While the Flames rocketed to the top of the league with a 37.5 power play percentage, the Ducks dropped to the bottom with an atrocious 61.9 penalty kill percentage.
As the most penalized team in the NHL during the regular season, the Ducks have had a lot of practice killing penalties. Perhaps their downfall in the postseason is the result of missing vital defencemen, such as Cam Fowler, who has since returned, and Sami Vatanen. Vatanen suffered an upper body injury during Game 1 against the Flames, and although was deemed available for Game 2, he didn’t play.
Now, the Ducks will most likely be missing Kevin Bieska after he appeared to have injured his knee during Wednesday’s game. With all these injuries to defencemen, it will be even more vital for the Ducks to stay out of the box.
Against Calgary, even though the Flames managed to score six goals on the man advantage, the Ducks’ penalty kill suffered, but it obviously wasn’t their downfall. The Flames were the second-most penalized team during the regular season and continued to be penalized often during the series. The Ducks began frustrating the young Flames players, which they also need to do against the Oilers.
Be Physical, but Be Smart
If the Ducks want to continue playing physical, they can, but they have to start being smart about it. The Oilers are the most penalized team during the postseason, after being harassed by the San Jose Sharks during the first round. The Ducks are arguably the more annoying team, thanks to players like Kesler and Corey Perry. But after that series, perhaps the Oilers have learned to keep their cool, and they don’t seem to be intimidated by the Ducks.
However, eventually the Ducks physicality will get to the Oilers. After all, with only four seconds left in the game, everyone on the ice got involved in a scrum that resulted in six players receiving roughing penalties The Ducks out-hit the Oilers 46-27. That will eventually wear on the Oilers, as will Kesler’s constant tailing of McDavid. But taking dumb penalties is risky and not often worth it. Against a team as offensively talented as the Oilers, the Ducks should never be down two skaters, which is what lead to the Oilers’ first power play goal:
It all started with a holding penalty on Nick Ritchie against Oscar Klefbom. Soon after, Hampus Lindholm followed him to the box after high-sticking Leon Draisaitl. The Ducks were already down two men, but after Ryan Getzlaf broke his stick on the faceoff, a 5-3 situation turned into a 5-2 one. While McDavid posted up in front of the net, Josh Manson swiftly followed and stayed basically on top of him. That left the eventual goal-scorer Mark Letestu completing undefended.
While the Ducks were prioritizing their shutdown of McDavid, they created opportunities for other players on the team. It’s kind of like they, along with the media judging from its pregame coverage, forgot that the Oilers are more than just McDavid. There are 17 other skaters all looking for the back of the net, including one who the Ducks seemed to forget to worry about: Leon Draisaitl.
Defend Draisaitl, too
During the regular season, Draisaitl was the best player on the Oilers against the Ducks. Not McDavid. Through the five games they played, Draisaitl ended up with six goals and two assists. That’s at least a goal per game. He continued his Duck dominance in the postseason, finishing Game 1 with a goal and two assists. Granted, the goal he scored was an empty-netter, but when he scored it, it seems like the Ducks weren’t prioritizing their defense of him.
Take a look:
The Oilers ended up on a 2-1 breakaway as Draisaitl carried the puck to the Anaheim zone, alongside Milan Lucic. Defending them is Cam Fowler, while Corey Perry trails slightly behind Lucic. Lucic then receives the puck from Draisaitl. Fowler, seeing that Lucic now has the puck despite the fact that he is being harassed by Perry, who has never been known for his defensive prowess, heads over to them. That leaves Draisaitl completely wide open. So when Lucic passes to him, Draisaitl effortlessly shoots it into the back of the empty net.
For Game 2 on Friday night, the Ducks are going to have to play better and smarter. Since they will most likely be missing Bieska and possibly Vatanen, it will be vital for the Ducks to stay out of the box and not strain their penalty kill unit. If they can’t stay out of the box, expect more power play goals from Edmonton.
Hannah Bonnie is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon, where she studied journalism with minors in creative writing and English. After growing up in Anaheim, she is a life-long Ducks fan and is happy to provide insight on her favorite team.
Follow her on Twitter @hbonnie03