Is Anaheim Still a Stanley Cup Favorite?
In the past four seasons, the Anaheim Ducks had high expectations for the regular season and postseason. During the regular season, the Ducks didn’t disappoint as they won the Pacific Division each year. The playoffs were another story as Anaheim was bounced from the postseason each time, only making it past the second round once. The Ducks were a Stanley Cup favorite in recent years, but this season is different given all the offseason changes.
As Anaheim gears up for the 2015-16 season, there are more questions compared to recent seasons. A familiar coach, new players, and new line combinations will all be part of how the 2015-16 season will unfold in Anaheim.
What’s old is new in Anaheim behind the bench this year. Carlyle was the coach in Anaheim from 2005-06 through part of the 2011-2012 when he was let go. Carlyle coached in Anaheim for just over six seasons with a 273-182-61 record. He won 36 playoff games and was 11-6 in elimination playoff games. He led Anaheim to their first and only Stanley Cup Championship in 2007. The question is whether Carlyle can repeat the feat with this current roster.
Carlyle’s strengths have been team defense, penalty killing, playing disciplined hockey, and holding players accountable. The Anaheim special teams were first last season. The power play was 23.1% efficient and the penalty kill was 87.2%. Team defense was first in the league, allowing the least amount of goals at 188. Anaheim played disciplined hockey and eventually it paid off as the Ducks went from the bottom of the league to near the top in the second half of the season. Carlyle will look to continue the strong special teams play and solid defensive game.
The concern with Carlyle is how will Anaheim perform offensively. The Ducks lost several forwards in the offseason, most notably David Perron and Jamie McGinn. Both had the potential to be 20 goal scorers in Anaheim this season. Perron shined after being traded from Pittsburgh. He played well with Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Stewart, a former teammate with St. Louis Blues. McGinn played solidly with Corey Perry and Rickard Rakell. Anaheim added Jared Boll, Mason Raymond and Antoine Vermette, but still haven’t found the scoring left winger they are looking for.
The biggest challenge for Carlyle will be to generate enough offense, especially if GM Bob Murray doesn’t acquire a scoring left winger. The Ducks can’t afford a slow start like last season, where Anaheim only scored ten goals in their first ten games. Carlyle may need to rely on Nick Ritchie and other players from the San Diego Gulls to help provide some scoring.
Regardless, the coach will need to focus on a puck possession forecheck as opposed to his characteristic dump-and-chase strategy. Every team has to dump the puck in the opponent’s zone at times, but if Anaheim can play a solid transition game then they can be effective offensively without relying on the dump-in. In Carlyle’s hiring press conference he stated he studied the game and will change, but only time will tell.
The Ducks still have talented veteran leadership in Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry. However, all three are 31 years or older, so time is running out for a chance to lead Anaheim to another Stanely Cup. Carlyle will have to figure out how to maximize their potential in the lineup if the Ducks want to make the playoffs and have a deep run.
Last season, Getzlaf and Perry played both together and apart. Carlyle is going to have to figure out what direction he wants to go with them because it affects a majority of the line combinations. If Carlyle keeps them together, then he needs to figure out the age old problem of who will be their left wing linemate. Unless a left winger is acquired, then Carlyle could turn to Nick Ritchie, Mason Raymond, or Ryan Garbutt as options. Carlyle may have to try several players before deciding the best fit.
If Carlyle splits Getzlaf and Perry, then he could put Perry with Rakell. The two played together for part of the season last year and were effective. Carlyle could then play Raymond or Ritchie on that line. Naturally, then Carlyle would have to find two linemates for Getzlaf, but the options are limited.
In regards to Ryan Kesler, Carlyle’s only decision would be whether to keep his line together with teammates Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg. The line played extremely well in the playoffs two seasons ago and did well last season. Carlyle may decide to split the line, but if he does he should at least keep Kesler and Silfverberg together. Silfverberg had his best season scoring 20 goals and Kesler added 21 goals of his own last year. Carlyle would be wise to keep them together, if not the entire line.
Stanley Cup Window
Anaheim’s Stanley Cup window is slowly closing and Carlyle has his work cut out for him. He will need to figure out how to build chemistry between the veteran Anaheim players and the new additions to the team. The Ducks should be able to play solid defense and special teams. If they can play well offensively too, then they have a chance to make a run for the Stanley Cup. Hopefully, Carlyle can find the right line combinations and maximize the potential of each player before the Cup window is closed.
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