Stanley Cup playoffs 2014: Ducks face daunting task against rival Kings

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

The Anaheim Ducks are the higher seed, but they face a daunting task against their Southern California rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, in Round 2.

SB Nation 2014 NHL Playoff Bracket

After clinching a first round victory over Dallas in exciting fashion, the Anaheim Ducks enter their best-of-seven series against the Los Angeles Kings in high spirits. As the top seed in the West with 116 points in the regular-season standings, there’s a lot to like about this club -- from offensive weapons Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to stout goaltending to the ageless Teemu Selanne.

But let’s not forget: while the Stars won just two playoff games in Round 1, they weren’t drastically out-played. If not for Dallas’ now-infamous third period collapse on Monday in Game 6, these two teams would have engaged in a Game 7 bout at the Honda Center, at which point it would have been anyone’s series. 

Anaheim Calling

The fact that a matchup between a No. 1 and No. 8 seed was so close speaks volumes about Dallas’ abilities, but it also says a lot about what Anaheim is made of.

Had the Ducks quickly disposed of the Stars, there’d be good reason to share in the confidence Bruce Boudreau and Co. have exuded over the last few days. But of course, that didn’t happen, and the adversity they faced brings to light some important issues. 

How did the Stars give the heavily-favored Ducks a run for their money? Essentially, they exposed Anaheim’s defensive shortcomings and won the possession battle.

Consider this: all seven goals the Stars scored in their two victories against the Ducks came less than 10 seconds after controlled zone entries. That’s no coincidence. A couple of these goals can be blamed on poor netminding, but most were products of Dallas blowing past opposing blue liners and creating quality chances.

A lot of credit here goes to quick-footed guys like Alex Goligoski and Tyler Seguin, but a lot of blame falls on Ducks defensemen.

Check out NHL.com’s highlight package from Game 3 below. The first two clips, among others, perfectly illustrate this type of sequence:

At the 1:25 mark, the play that creates Dallas’ first goal of the night begins.

Stars1_medium

The puck is sent up the ice to Trevor Daley, who gains the zone near the left boards. Dallas is at a 2-on-3 disadvantage at this point, but Shawn Horcoff uses his wheels to find a seam and blow past two Anaheim defenders.

Stars2_medium

Daley sees his teammate streaking toward the net and feeds him the puck. Notice how much farther apart defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm are than the first screenshot. Beauchemin makes the ill-advised decision to stray from the slot, and Lindholm is nowhere near a Stars player.

Stars3_medium

Horcoff then gets a shot on goal. Notice where the four visible Ducks are in relation to the puck.

Stars4_medium

Horcoff’s bid is stopped by Frederick Andersen, but a rebound is left at the bottom of the right circle. Lindholm has a chance to clear the puck but whiffs, and Jamie Benn knocks it home. 1-0.

Every team has its defensive breakdowns, and this is just one example. But this is no isolated incident; rather, it’s one of many instances in which opponents exploit the Ducks by gaining the zone, getting to the open patches of ice and putting quality shots on net.

It’s worth noting that 10 of 15 non-empty net goals the Kings scored in the first round came in this manner -- and San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan noticed.

"They scored I don't know how many goals off the rush," McLellan told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun. "Every day we came to the rink and we tried to stress that about giving outnumbered rushes. We were never able to fix it. It's frustrating because during the year we were pretty good in those areas. I don't know if there's one point [when the series shifted] but that would sum it up."

When watching the Kings vs. Ducks series, pay attention to how often LA’s controlled entries lead to scoring chances. They will probably happen a lot.

This isn't to say Anaheim's blue line is bad, because it's not. But it's certainly not championship-caliber, either. Compare this corps to those of every true Cup contender over the last decade, and it will pale in comparison to most.

The Ducks' underwhelming defense goes a long way toward explaining their possession metrics, which don't get the attention of, say Toronto and Colorado, but remain a point of interest.

Anaheim’s pedestrian Corsi and Fenwick numbers have been well-documented over the last few months by the stats community, and little (if anything) has changed during the playoffs in this regard. Sure, the Stars were an above average possession team during the regular season, but they weren’t spectacular by any means. Not compared to the Kings. 

No, the Kings had the best 5v5 score-adjusted Fenwick in the NHL (56.5 percent), whereas the Ducks finished 12th (50.9) in that category. 50.9 percent is respectable, sure, but they’re looking at a rather large difference to overcome vs. a far superior possession team in the Kings.

The Stars’ 5v5 score-adjusted Fenwick during the regular season was just four-tenths of a percentage point above the Ducks', and yet they still dominated the Ducks in terms of possession through much of their Round 1 series -- leaving Anaheim with a paltry 5v5 Corsi of 46.3 percent in those six games.

In the end, the Ducks were able to overcome their deficiencies against the Stars with their superior skill and a bit of luck. Anaheim had the highest PDO in the league this year by a significant margin (103.4), so its good fortune shouldn't come as a surprise.

But luck always runs out at some point. Whether that happens to the Ducks on Saturday, next season or sometime in-between remains unclear.

Can the Ducks defy the odds and advance to the Western Conference Final? Absolutely. Will they? Probably not.

All statistics obtained via ExtraSkater.com.

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