To any aspiring defensemen out there, I have only one recommendation: watch the Red Wings – Ducks series. Watch every minute of it, and learn from the finest masters of the last 10 years in order to practice your craft. If asked to name the top defensemen of the last 10 years, I would name Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger, Brian Rafalski and Scott Niedermeyer (the order, other than Lidstrom, is debatable); all 4 will be featured in this series. With their defeat of the Sharks, the Ducks have now become the story of the playoffs, and the scariest 8 seed in some time. However, they face the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the deepest team in the NHL. Two years ago, these same two teams met in the Conference Final, with the winner widely predicted to win the Stanley Cup, which the Ducks duly did. The winner of this series may very well do the same.
Team Offense GVT Defense GVT Goaltending GVT Even Strength Total GVT
Ducks - 1.8 + 2.2 + 10.9 + 11.3
NHL Rank 17th 15th 7th 9th
Red Wings + 31.9 + 15.2 - 21.4 + 25.7
NHL Rank 1st 3rd 27th 5th
Detroit Offense versus Anaheim Defense
The Red Wings offense at even strength is simply terrifying. Other than Boston, no team can ice four deep lines like the Red Wings can. The Wings top line features MVP finalist Pavel Datsyuk, perennial 40-goal scorer Marian Hossa and pesky Tomas Holmstrom, but the second line can be just as scary: Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Daniel Cleary, who are not only an offensive threat but also an excellent shutdown line, having recently smothered Rick Nash in their series against Columbus. Amazingly, Cleary is Detroit’s top scorer at even strength, with 5 points in 4 playoff games. At the other end, the Ducks defense was average over the course of the season, but has picked up in the last 6 weeks of the regular season and, obviously, in the playoffs. Rob Niedermeyer was very strong in the Ducks Cup run in 2007 and continues to play well while shutting down other teams’ top lines. I said in my first round preview that Hiller would have to play like Giguere did in 2003 for the Ducks to advance: so far, mission accomplished. He’ll have to do it again.
Advantage: Detroit Red Wings
Anaheim Offense versus Detroit Defense
If any forward can be considered the front-runner for the Conn Smythe trophy this early in the playoffs, it would have to be Ryan Getzlaf, who continues to prove that he should be mentioned among the elite of the league. Getzlaf is second in playoff scoring with 8 points and was a strong leader for the Ducks in the first round. Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan also continue to produce at even strength. After those three, however, the drop-off is steep. As befits any team with Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings defense is very strong. Rafalski is possibly the most underrated defenseman in the league, and it’s no surprise that the Wings won the Cup his first year there. People talk about this series being about three star defensemen; I say it’s four.
Nicklas Kronwall adds some good depth to the blue line, and the Red Wings forwards, especially Datsyuk and the Zetterberg-Franzen-Cleary line, are very strong defensively as well. The Achilles’ heel during the season was Chris Osgood, who provided some of the worst goaltending in the NHL, and possibly the worst of any playoff team, but who rediscovered his game against Columbus. If he can keep it up, things get harder for the Ducks.
Overall, during the season, the Wings’ even strength defense ranked 3rd in the league. Given that the #1 defense belonged to the Sharks, I’m not sure this scares the Ducks that much.
PPO: Power Play Offense GVT
PPD: Power Play Defense GVT
PEND: Penalties Drawn GVT
PP Total: Power Play Total GVT
SHO: Short Handed/ Penalty Killing Offense GVT
SHD: Short Handed/ Penalty Killing Defense GVT
PENT: Penalties Taken GVT
SH Total: Short Handed/ Penalty Killing Total GVT
Team PPO PPD PEND PP Total SHO SHD PENT SH Total
Ducks + 14.4 - 0.9 - 5.3 + 8.2 - 2.8 - 5.0 - 7.3 - 15.1
NHL Rank 5th 20th 28th 7th 25th 23rd 27th 26th
Red Wings + 23.1 + 4.1 + 2.0 + 29.2 - 1.5 - 9.0 + 2.3 - 8.2
NHL Rank 1st 2nd 12th 1st 20th 25th 10th 23rd
Detroit Power Play versus Anaheim Penalty Kill
The Red Wings had the #1 power play in the league, with a + 29.2 GVT. Datsyuk was the main engine, scoring an impressive 36 points on the power play. However, the Red Wings’ depth plays a huge role here, with three competent quarterbacks at the point (Lidstrom, Rafalski and Kronwall), and players like Jiri Hudler, who scored an impressive 28 power play points! The Wings’ power play has continued clicking in the playoffs, hitting a 32 % rate against the Blue Jackets. The Wings also don’t give up many short-handed goals, which can easily deflate a team. The Ducks were very naughty during the regular season, being short-handed 385 times, 4th most in the league, which cost them - 7.3 in GVT. Combined with their below-average penalty killing, they were - 15.1 GVT short-handed, 3rd worst in the league. They’ve gotten better in the playoffs, taking fewer penalties and improving their penalty killing. In Pronger and Scott Niedermeyer, they have two of the best penalty-killers in the business. San Jose didn’t make the Ducks pay much for their penalties; it’s unlikely Detroit will be so kind.
Advantage: Detroit Red Wings
Anaheim Power Play versus Detroit Penalty Kill
Teemu Selanne was oddly absent from the first-round series with the Sharks, but he was the engine of the Ducks’ strong power play during the regular season, scoring 28 of his 54 points on the power play. A strong addition has been Ryan Whitney, who was having a poor season in Pittsburgh but who seems to have fit in well with the Ducks; he had 3 power play assists against the Sharks. Scott Niedermayer, Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan all help as well. For such an undisciplined team, they don’t manage to draw a lot of penalties: the Ducks only drew 309 power plays, third least in the league, which cost them - 5.3 GVT. For such a strong defensive team, the Red Wings penalty killing was surprisingly mediocre, possibly as a result of the poor goaltending they had during the year. Kris Draper, who is currently injured, is one of their top penalty killers, and if he returns the penalty killing will improve.
The Wings won 3 of 4 contest between the two teams this year, with the fourth being won by the Ducks in overtime. Overall the Wings outscored the Ducks 15 to 10 in regulation. However, the last time these two teams met was February 20th, a convincing 5-2 Wings victory, just before the Ducks went on a tear to win 14 of their last 22 games to squeeze into the playoffs. The Ducks have clearly improved since February, but it’s safe to say the Red Wings have proven they can skate with them and win.
Advantage: Detroit Red Wings
Injuries and Intangibles
Detroit has two major injuries: one is to Draper, and while Draper brings some nice defensive skills the Red Wings should be able to get along just fine without him. The other is to defenseman Andreas Lilja, who is fourth or fifth on the depth chart when healthy. Lilja’s injury means Jonathan Ericsson will continue to prove himself. Anaheim defenseman Bret Hedican has been out since February and is probably lost for the season.
Intangibles should be a non-factor in this series: while people will talk of the Red Wings’ rust or the Ducks coming off an emotional high after their series with the Sharks, all that will be forgotten after 10 minutes of game 1. These two teams are the most successful franchises of the last 5 years, winners of the last two Stanley Cups, with a total of 18 playoff series wins since 2003. The Ducks are not intimidated by the Wings or simply “happy to be here”, and the Wings are well aware that the Ducks could be the most dangerous team left in the Western Conference.
Looking at the regular season results and the playoffs so far, Detroit’s chances of winning the series are estimated at 66%. Some will say the regular season means nothing, and in light of the Ducks’ first round victory they have a point; the Ducks have certainly woken up the rest of the league, and now it’s time to find out if they are the real thing or if they just profited from the Sharks’ inevitable choke reflex. I predicted the Ducks would lose in 6 in the first round and was forced to eat my words, but they are still underdogs against the powerful Red Wings. They have gotten excellent goaltending so far, and if Hiller’s save percentage remains at 0.957, the Ducks will be playing in June. However, I said before the playoffs that the Bruins and Red Wings are the two best teams in the league, and I haven’t seen anything that would make me revise that opinion - yet.
Prediction: Detroit Red Wings in 7 games
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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