Ducks vs. Oilers: 8 keys to victory in Stanley Cup Playoff series

(Ed. Note: Welcome to Round 2 coverage of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where we flip the format and get right to the point with eight keys to each series. Enjoy!)

The last time the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs was the 2006 Western Conference Finals. Back then, the Ducks were still ‘Mighty’ and Chris Pronger was still an Oiler. Edmonton beat Anaheim in five games to move on to the Stanley Cup Final.

Just over a decade later, the teams meet again, this time battling the opportunity to play in the Western Conference final.

The Ducks came into the playoffs as the Pacific Division champs, edging the Oilers for the title by two points. Anaheim quickly dispatched of the Calgary Flames by a sweep in the first round.

The Oilers path was a little tougher. Edmonton ran into a battered, yet experienced San Jose Sharks team. The two teams split the first four games. In Game 5, the Oilers suffered a 7-0 shellacking at the hands of the Sharks. Remarkably, the team bounced back to take the next two games and win the series.

1. Kesler vs. McDavid

If you aren’t already sick of hearing about this matchup, you will be. Both Randy Carlyle and Todd McLellan have stated they’re not backing away from keeping the two against each other. Jonathan Willis did a deep dive into the numbers behind the battle of Bartman (Kesler) vs. Superman (McDavid).

Bartman is the alter-ego of lovable, mischievous Bart Simpson. While Kesler may not be so loved outside of Anaheim, he’s who the Ducks have elected to go against McDavid as they did during the regular season. Using his incredibly annoying style and two-way play, and with help from his shutdown linemates Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg, they will do their best to limit the effectiveness of McDavid.

McDavid is Superman. The young captain of the Oilers ended the season with his first Art Ross Trophy after scoring 100 points. We all know what he can do: His speed is off the charts. He’s incredibly dynamic.

In the regular season against the Ducks, McDavid neared an average shift length of about one minute. Kesler, 12 years McDavid’s senior, had to lengthen his shifts to keep up. The Sharks gave McDavid a steady dose of defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun in the first round. The Ducks choose to employ the most pressure with their shutdown forward line. As far as defensemen go, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson drew in against McDavid most often.

Which guy wins at the end? (If this were Zack Snyder’s version of the playoffs, no one wins. Ever.)

2. Faceoffs

Anaheim finished the regular season first in the NHL on the faceoff dot with a 54.7-percent success rate. They currently sit third among playoff teams at 53.4-percent. Ryan Kesler has taken the most draws in the post-season but has struggled, winning only 44.4-percent. Randy Carlyle has the option of turning to Antoine Vermette (62.3-percent), Ryan Getzlaf (55.8-percent) and Nate Thompson (55.7-percent) depending on the situation.

Edmonton finished in last place in the regular season when it came to draws, holding a 47-percent success rate as a team. They are third to last among playoff teams at 47.2-percent. Against the Sharks, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (41.4-percent) and Mark Letestu (47.6-percent) took a majority of the draws.

When McDavid is on the ice, it’s usually his linemate, Leon Draisaitl, who takes the faceoffs. Draisaitl went up against Logan Couture much of the time. Couture was playing in a full cage for a couple games due to his broken mouth, but Draisaitl held his own. In total, Draisaitl won 59.4-percent of faceoffs. McDavid took 38 draws total, winning 14 (36.8-percent). He’ll get better as he gets bigger and more experienced, just like Sid did.

3. You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him – Ryan Getzlaf and Linemates

For the Oilers, their focus has to be on shutting down Ryan Getzlaf offensively. While the Ducks have been on their 15-0-3 run (including the playoffs), Getzlaf has put up 25 points (6-19=25). Anaheim has learned: as goes Getzlaf, so goes the Ducks.

In the regular season against Edmonton, Getzlaf recorded eight points in five games.

Trade deadline acquisition Patrick Eaves has replaced Corey Perry (for now) as Getzlaf’s go-to offensive partner. Since joining the Ducks, Eaves has amassed 12 goals, 17 points in 24 games played with the team. He goes to the front of the net and is expected to take a ton of punishment by the Oilers for doing so.

4. You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him – Leon Draisaitl and Linemates

The line of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Patrick Maroon gave the Ducks fits with 19 points in five regular season games. Draisaitl led the group with six goals and two assists; followed by McDavid’s two goals and five assists and Maroon’s four assists.

Maroon was taken off the line with McDavid and Draisaitl in the latter part of the series against San Jose with Drake Caggiula taking his place for Games 5 and 6. It remains to be seen if Todd McLellan will go back to this combo given their regular season success or stick with Caggiula.

Maroon is playing with a little extra fuel against Anaheim. The team basically gave up on him and sent him to Edmonton last year. Have to believe that guy want to get his revenge.

5. Gibson vs. Talbot

This is the first offseason where the two netminders are the undisputed No. 1 goaltenders for the respective clubs. Who will handle the pressure the best remains to be seen.

The only real knock against Talbot this post-season was the 7-0 thumping by the Sharks in Game 4. He allowed five goals and was replaced by backup Laurent Brossoit. Prior to that, Talbot shut-out the Sharks in Games 2 and 3. Overall, he’s 4-2-0 with a 2.03 goals-against and .927 save percentage.

As for Gibson, he was also pulled in a game during Round 1. After allowing four goals against the Flames, he was replaced by Jonathan Bernier. The backup gave up no goals while the Ducks came back to win in overtime. Gibson maintains a 3-0-0 record (Bernier got the win in the comeback) and holds a 2.59 goals-against and .926 save percentage.

6. Terrible PK vs. Awful PP

The Anaheim Ducks penalty kill ended the regular season fourth in the NHL (84.7-percent). It did not translate in the playoffs. In their four games against Calgary, the Ducks penalty kill was 62.5-percent. On the road, they were a coin flip 50-percent; eight times short-handed resulted in four power play goals against. At home they were only slightly better (69.2-percent), but penalized more; 13 times short-handed and four power play goals against.

The Edmonton Oilers power play finished the regular season fifth in the league (22.9-percent). That number plummeted in the six games against San Jose to a shocking 12.5-percent. At home the Oil had 10 power play opportunities and capitalized twice. On the road, they were afforded six power plays and converted zero times.

One of these squads has to break out of their respective funks and take advantage of the other’s struggles.

Note: The Ducks power play is 23.1-percent in the playoffs with one shorthanded goal against. The Oilers penalty kill is 80.8-percent successful, scoring two shorthanded goals (one by Zack Kassian!).

7. Possession

Special teams might nullify each other if the two teams can’t get their acts together. That leads to further emphasis on five-on-five play.

Per Corsica, among the teams in Round 1,  Edmonton is fourth in score adjusted, Corsi-For at 52.4-percent. Jordan Eberle leads the team at 59.69 CF% and right behind him is defenseman Oscar Klefbom at 58.34 CF%. There are nine additional players who are in the fifties, Corsi-For percentage wise.

As for Anaheim, they are ninth among playoff teams in the same metric at 49.45-percent. Defenseman Josh Manson leads the squad at 56.47 CF%. Shea Theodore (52.27 CF%), Patrick Eaves (51.18 CF%), and Kevin Bieksa (51.01 CF%) round out the Ducks players in the fifties.

8. Prediction.

Ducks in six. Anaheim is a different team that we’ve seen in years prior. They’re confident and on a roll. It’ll be a close series, but ultimately one Anaheim will prevail over. Like the Leafs, the Oilers time is coming.