The Ducks and Sharks met six times in the regular season with San Jose winning four out of the six. Now that the playoffs have arrived the series is zeroed out and both teams have a clean slate.
What we can expect to see in this series is a lot of emotion and bad blood between two teams that are very familiar with each other.
San Jose has been the cream of the crop all season and has played consistent hockey (53-18-11 = 117 points). The Ducks (42-33-7 = 91 points) on the other hand were inconsistent for most of the season circling around the lower depths of the Western Conference falling as low as 12th, but were able to put together a great final campaign and make it into the playoffs.
The Ducks closed the final 13 games of the regular season with 10 victories and Randy Carlyle seems to have found a working formula for his trade deadline acquisitions; Ryan Whitney, James Wisniewski, Pettri Nokelainan, and Erik Christensen.
The Ducks and Sharks were only able to muster up 12 goals a piece against each other in the regular season, but expect to see more points tallied up in the playoff series. The Ducks will have to figure out how to get the puck behind Nabokov and when they do it, it needs to be early and often. The Ducks tend to play better when they are ahead rather than behind.
The first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are young, but dangerous every time they are on the ice. They need to keep their cool, put up big numbers and stay out of the penalty box. If this line can out produce the Sharks top line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devon Setoguchi than the Ducks will have a shot of upsetting the top seed in the West.
More importantly for Carlyle is that he has finally found a replacement for Andy McDonald on the second line to play along side with Teemu Selanne. Andrew Ebbet (8- 24 = 32 points) in his rookie campaign has played in only 48 games and has fit in nicely feeding Selanne with some spectacular passes. Ebbet’s speed compliments Selanne’s and he is able to keep up with the Finnish Flash. Both players seem to connect out on the ice and have a great chemistry. This tandem became even more dangerous with the addition of Drew Miller (3-1 = 4 points, last 12 games of the regular season) who has contributed since being recalled from the Iowa Chops back in early March.
The second line, or the "super 8's" which I like to call them, of Teemu Selanne (8), Andrew Ebbet (48) and Drew Miller (18) need to step it up and produce for the Ducks. If they can get hot and take some of the pressure off the big line of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan then San Jose will have to come up with a new plan in order to stop both lines, which will be difficult to do.
The new checking line of Pettri Nokelainan, Rob Niedermayer and Todd Marchant will have the assignment of shutting down the Sharks top line which is nothing new for them. We will also see these three players along with Mike Brown killing off penalties, something the Ducks need to try and avoid doing to often. The Sharks have one of the best power plays in the league and the Ducks aren’t the best of killing them off, only 79%.
Todd Marchant has been the X-factor for the Ducks since the trade deadline. He has upped his game to a new level and it seems as if the team has taken notice and has responded. Marchant is a veteran leader on this team and has been a machine on the penalty kill. Expect to see Marchant get numerous opportunities in the offensive zone on and off the penalty kill.
The course of history shows that teams tend to not dress their enforcer for the playoffs. Why teams do this still baffles me. The Ducks’ George Parros ( 5-5 = 10 points) had a fantastic year setting new personal records in every offensive category. Don’t expect to see big George put any pucks in the back of the net, but be assured you will see him dance with Shark enforcer Jody Shelley here and there. Parros is a fan favorite and knows his role bringing excited and working hard in limited minutes along side Mike Brown and Erik Christensen.
Ducks fans can expect solid defense from a blue line consisting of four players with Stanley Cup Finals experience. Scott Niedermayer will be paired up with long time line mate Francios Beauchemin and Chris Pronger will continue to play with Ryan Whitney who was a member of last years Pittsburgh Penguins squad. James Wisniewski who has been playing alongside the captain Niedermayer will round out the pairings with Sheldon Brookbank. Wisniewski has been a great addition to the Ducks blue line with his head up play and smart choices with the puck. Look for him to contribute offensively with crisp outlet passing from the defensive zone.
In net Jonas Hiller has been hot tying a franchise record seven straight victories during the Ducks final push for the playoffs. Hiller will more than likely start the series in San Jose, but don’t forget about J.S. Giguere who has playoff experience and leads the NHL among active goaltenders in win % (33-17, .660) and second in save% (1357-for-1467, .925). If Giguere starts on the bench he will without a doubt be ready when his number is called upon. Shaky season or not, Jiggy will find his groove in the playoffs and that’s a scary thing if this series goes to seven games.
Keys to Series Success
Stay out of the penalty box.
Score first and score often.
Stay aggressive on the penalty kill and don’t allow San Jose to set up.
Keep the lines as is (Getz, Pers, Ryan; the super 8’s; shut down & enforcer line)
Win one of the first two games in San Jose.