Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets

(Ed. Note: There are five Canadian teams in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, trying their hardest to recapture Lord Stanley’s Cup and return it to the Great White North after it’s been in the grimy, unworthy hands of American teams since 1994. Here is Puck Daddy’s Playoff Preview for the first round, complete with a celebration of their Canadian elements.)

Teemu Selanne was never considered a physical player. In his prime, he was too fast, and too smart to be hit. With that in mind, it’s probably best he retired when he did because now that his two teams are meeting in the playoffs, there will be blood.

Anaheim and Winnipeg are two of the more physical teams in the league. The Jets were No. 8 in total hits and the Ducks were No. 10. Both teams are in the top 10 for total penalty minutes, total penalties received, total major penalties, and total game misconducts.

Really, with the likes Corey Perry and Dustin Byfuglien in the lineup, would you expect anything less?

Forwards

Remember when the Jets had Evander Kane? The loss of Kane didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the forwards, if anything, it might have made them better. The Jets have two 60+ point scorers, one 50+ point scorer, and four 40+ point scorers.

The combination of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Michael Frolik have combined for 156-points of total offense this season. Using the NHL: Player Chemistry index, Ladd and Little are the most dangerous on the ice together; 30 of the pair’s combined 48 goals have come from one another. The second line of Drew Stafford, Mark Scheifele, and Blake Wheeler are just as deadly with a total of 153-points (when including Stafford’s stats from Buffalo). Coming to Winnipeg has reinvigorated Stafford. He had 19 points in 26 games, including a 9-game point streak. The third line contains two mid-season acquisitions, Jiri Tlusty and Lee Stempniak, and they’re centered by Adam Lowry, who is filling in for the questionable former-Duck, Mathieu Perreault. The fragile Perreault has suffered through various injuries through out the season, but still managed a respectable 41 points in 62 games. Perreault is in Anaheim and listed as a game-time decision.

For a long time, the Ducks were known as a one line team, and rightfully so. Yet after years of developing talents, and some well-timed trades, Anaheim has a balanced scoring attack through all four lines. Bruce Boudreau’s has said from day one he wants all his players to be able to play with everybody on the team. In Bruce speak, that’s saying, “When I have no f-ing clue what to do, I’ll throw the lines in a blender and see what happens.”

As always, the offense begins and ends with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Getzlaf had another strong season with 70-points in 77 games played. Perry hit the 30-goal plateau for the fifth time in his career; his total offense was down due to missing significant time with an injury and the mumps. Since the Bobby Ryan trade, the left wing position on the top line has been a revolving door of players. For the moment, Patrick Maroon finds himself up with the two stars to add some beef.

The acquisition of Ryan Kesler did exactly as was expected, giving the Ducks a one-two punch down the middle. Kesler’s 47 points in 81 games and 56.3-percent on the dot provided an excellent counter to Getzlaf. For now, Kesler has Matt Beleskey (career high 22 goals in 65 games) and Kyle Palmieri, on his wings. Palmieri and Kesler have 5 power play goals and 11 power play points each.

Jakob Silfverberg, a part of the Bobby Ryan trade, had his first healthy season in a Ducks sweater since he was acquired. His sneaky fast wrist shot gave him 39-points in 81 games played. Andrew Cogliano continues to chug along as the NHL’s active Iron Man leader; he gave the Ducks 3 short-handed goals during the year.

The Ducks will be without the services of stalwart centerman Nate Thompson, at least for Game 1. He was injured in Anaheim’s final game of the season. Thompson led the Ducks in hits at 206, and was second to Kesler in face-offs at 52.7%. Look for sophomore revelation Rickard Rakell (31-points, 71 GP) to take over a majority of his work.

ADVANTAGE: Even

Defensemen

Everyone knows about Dustin Byfuglien. Before injuries and suspensions set him back, he was having one of his best offensive seasons on the blueline with 45-points in 69 GP, and set the team record for penalty minutes at 124. He was third on the team in power play scoring with 17 points. He can and will destroy a player if given the opportunity. Jacob Trouba is continuing to be one of the stars of the d-corps. He’s third on the team in time-on-ice at 23:18 per game and blocks the second most shots on the team. With his very good CF%, his name is list with top veteran d-men who’ve played at least 1,000 minutes and he’s only 21-years old. Acquired from Buffalo at the deadline, Tyler Myers is an absolute beast. He’s logging the most ice time on Winnipeg, and like Stafford, he’s been reborn with the Jets with 15-points in 24 GP.

It wasn’t a secret the Ducks biggest liability was their defensive group. Bob Murray did something about that and added Simon Despres, Korbinian Holzier and James Wisniewski. It appears Despres has been the only one of the new guys that’s stuck as he’ll be starting the series with Cam Fowler (34-points, 80 GP). Francois Beauchemin (plus-17) and Hampus Lindholm (plus-25) make up Anaheim’s top pair. Rounding out the group is offensive defenseman Sami Vatenen who will never hesitate to join the forward rush. Partnered with Vatanen is Clayton Stoner. He’s the biggest question mark on the top six. He’s struggled, mightily at times, this season, but he’s always willing to throw down, so that could be why Bruce keeps relying on him.

ADVANTAGE: Even

You know what screams “old time hockey?” A LINE BRAWL! Everyone loves a line brawl!

Fighting Tyler Myers is like trying to fight a giraffe after you steal a carrot from its mouth, assuming giraffes eat carrots. Or have mouths.

Goaltending

At the beginning of the season, if you would’ve told Jets fans that Ondrej Pavelec would be their savior to get into the playoffs down the stretch, they would have punched you in the face. For all intents and purposes, Pavelec has spent much of his career with the Thrashers/Jets organization as a very average goaltender. It appeared to be another season of the same when Pavelec lost his net to rookie Michael Hutchinson. However, when Hutchinson faltered in mid-March, right when the Jets entered ‘must win’ game territory, Pavelec ceased the chance to take back the crease. In his final 12 games, he was 9-2-1, gave up zero goals in his final 3 games, and was named the second star of the final week of the season. Here’s the thing, neither Pavelec or Hutchinson have appeared in any playoff games. Will the bright lights and the exuberance of the atmosphere in Winnipeg be help or hindrance?

As for the Ducks, their goaltending conundrum appears to have been solved for them. Frederik Andersen missed a chunk of the back half of the season with a neck injury. Since returning, he’s helped the Ducks limp over the finish line. Neither Andersen nor wunderkind backup John Gibson were absolutely stellar to finish off the regular season, but they were good enough when the team playing in front of them didn’t care too much after punching their post-season ticket. Andersen wrapped up the regular season with a respectable 35-12-5 record, 2.38 GAA and .920 SV%. As for Gibson, he was injured during practice over the weekend and is not expected to be ready to back up Freddie in Game 1. Veteran Jason LaBarbera was called up from Norfolk and will back up Andersen for now.

This is beginning to feel eerily like the goaltending drama the Ducks went through in their playoff stint last season. One big factor that makes the two situations different – the lack of options Boudreau has at his disposal. Last season, Boudreau bungled the goaltending situation with Andersen, Gibson, and Hiller. Boudreau has to go with Freddie this time because Gibson just isn’t available. If he opts for LaBarbera for no reason other than a zombie apocalypse and Freddie is now a zombie, then he might as well start looking for another job.

ADVANTAGE: Ducks

Ducks: 7.5. Could they be the least Canadian team? The half a player is for Cam Fowler. He was born in Windsor, Ontario; however, he’s half-American and chooses to play for the good guys…er… Team USA.

Jets: 15. It might be Canadian law that your NHL team be nearly half homegrown boys.

Coaches

There is one thing that Paul Maurice has over Bruce Boudreau – a trip to the big dance. In the ’01-’02 season, Maurice led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Cup finals, but would lose in five games to Detroit. Boudreau has coached a lot of good regular season teams, but he has yet to get to the promised land. Heck, he has yet to get out of the second round.

ADVANTAGE: Jets (Bruce’s worst enemy is his own mind.)

Special Teams

The Jets were No. 18 on the power play at 17.5 percent, and had the sixth-most opportunities on the man-advantage. For the penalty kill, they were No. 13 with 81.8 percent efficiency. They tied with the Islanders for most short-handed goals in the league at 10, and led the league in most times short-handed.

To say the Ducks power play is atrocious is being nice when they’re No. 28 (15.7 percent). Missing Corey Perry and Sami Vantanen for a significant amount of time didn’t help. It’s probably a good thing they had the sixth-least amount of opportunity on the PP. As for the penalty kill, it was better than the power play at No. 15 (81.0 percent) with 9 short-handed goals.

ADVANTAGE: Jets

Ducks: Until he was traded, no one was quite sure how to pronounce Simon Despres name. Thanks, TSN!

Jets: Adam Pardy. He’s from Bonavista. No, not (Lake) Buena Vista in sunny, warm Florida, but Bonavista… Newfoundland.

Players to Watch

Dustin Byfuglien because he’s gigantic; it’s impossible to miss him. Boudreau is going to try to keep Getzlaf and Perry away from him because he’s bound to make their lives miserable. If he can get under shut them down by getting under their skin and roughing them up, causing them to take bad penalties as they’ve been known to do, that can only lead to good things for the Jets.

Size-wise, Sami Vatanen is the polar opposite of Byfuglien, but he has a similar cannon of a shot. The Liliputian defenseman missed a chunk of time with an injury and that’s when the Ducks’ power play went down the toilet. Sami leads the team with 7 power play goals and 17 power play points. He’s the highest scoring defenseman with 37 points.

Prediction

Ducks in six. The Jets will be carried by the spirit of the fans in the first game at home, but the pressure may be too much for that young squad. Anaheim has the confidence, and playoff experience, to get them past the first round, at the very least.