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Series Preview: Ducks vs Sharks
By Eddy Jones
Anaheim vs San Jose, SoCal vs NorCal, Ducks vs Sharks, Orange vs Teal. Whatever you want to call it the Anaheim Ducks will be playing the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, and we’re not sure it’s what everyone expected to hear only a few months ago.
Rewind back to December 27th, 2017, Ryan Kesler was just finally returning from off-season hip surgery that had sidelined him all season and Ryan Getzlaf had only returned 7 games prior to that from a fractured zygomatic bone. The Anaheim Ducks sat at a lowly 16-13-8 and were watching on as a certain expansion team in Nevada ran away with their Pacific Division title. The Ducks would lose to Vegas 4-1 on the night, and the outlook for the rest of the season appeared bleak, even with the injuries seemingly in the past.
The Ducks would go on to post a 28-11-5 record in the games following that loss.
Now here we are, April 10th, 2018, and the Anaheim Ducks have not only made the playoffs, but they have snatched home-ice advantage from the jaws of the San Jose Sharks on the final day of the regular season. Both teams are now set to face each other in what should be an exciting first-round matchup.
1. Despite making the playoffs, the injuries are still not behind this team. Cam Fowler is the latest causality to hit the injured reserve carousel that has been the Anaheim Ducks roster this year. The prognosis is that he will be out 2-6 weeks with a shoulder injury, dating back to April 1st. Kevin Bieksa and John Gibson look likely to play in Game 1, but nothing has been confirmed yet. The Sharks, also bit by the injury bug, start Game 1 with Joe Thornton watching from the sidelines. He has been out since January 23rd with a knee injury and is doubtful to play at all in the series.
2. The Ducks head into the playoffs winners of their last 5. Meanwhile, the Sharks ambled their way to the finish line losing 5 of their last 6 and looked like a shell of the team who had recently rattled off an 8-game win streak. Say what you will about how important it is to head into playoffs hot, both teams will open Game 1 with a clean slate and an appetite to send the other to the greens early.
The Ducks enter the playoffs with the 18th ranked offense in the NHL, currently sitting at 2.82 GPG. Top scorers Rickard Rakell and Ryan Getzlaf have led the way all season and will need to continue to do so if the Ducks hope to move on.
Top Line Talent
Ryan Getzlaf, Rickard Rakell, and Corey Perry have a cushy seat on the top line in Anaheim. They’ve been utilized the most at 5v5, (484 minutes), of any line the Ducks have put together this season. This line will be responsible for logging the lions share of minutes and will be tasked with leading the way offensively. Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler, and Jakob Silfverberg aren’t as reliable as they have been in the past. Most of which is due to Ryan Kesler still dealing with issues resulting from his hip surgery. Despite that, you can expect this line to be tasked with shutting down Joe Pavelski and company right from the opening faceoff. They’ll have to find some consistent form to be a threat offensively, so look to Jakob Silfverberg to be an X-factor on this line. The Swede has six points in his last four games and looks to be trending in the right direction heading into the playoffs. Adam Henrique, Nick Ritchie, and Ondrej Kase are the gift that keeps on giving. They have been a consistent threat since inception and will be a key piece of Anaheim’s depth in this series and beyond. Kase is the unsung hero of this team and will be relied upon to provide some timely offense.
The 4th line has consistently rotated through the spare parts at the bottom of the Ducks lineup. The Ducks can pick from a pool that includes; Jason Chimera, Chris Kelly, Derek Grant, Antoine Vermette, J.T. Brown and Troy Terry. They won’t be expected to contribute consistently but could be a factor if they can provide some timely offense.
San Jose Sharks
Top Line Talent
Evander Kane, Joe Pavelski, and Joonas Donskoi have been the Sharks most productive line since being pieced together. Evander Kane has found the perfect home after toiling away in Buffalo for the past three seasons. Kane has 14 points in 17 games since joining the Sharks at the deadline and will be a consistent threat whenever he’s on the ice. Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, and Mikkel Boedker features the lone 30-goal scorer on the Sharks roster. Couture hit 34 this year and is the biggest threat on a line that can burn some serious rubber. Watch for Getzlaf to get the task of shutting down Couture, while Kesler spends some time matched up against Joe Pavelski. Timo Meier, Chris Tierney, and Kevin Labanc are an intriguing third option for San Jose. This line has the energy to burn and can be an X-factor for the Sharks if they can get some favorable matchups. Ritchie, Henrique, and Kase have the same feel as this line so it will be interesting to watch their progression.
Just like Anaheim, the Sharks have an assortment of spare parts to throw on the 4th line. However, the selection of forwards available are slightly more appealing then what Anaheim has to offer. Jannik Hansen, Joel Ward, Marcus Sorensen, Barclay Goodrow, Eric Fehr and Melker Karlsson all can platoon on a 4th line that could cause some problems for the Ducks. They won’t play a lot but have the talent to be more of a 3B rather then a 4th line.
Edge: San Jose (slightly)
The Sharks depth and distribution of star power gives them a slight edge. If Kesler and Henrique’s lines can get hot, the edge is extremely minuscule.
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Anaheim Ducks – 3rd (2.55 GAA)
No Cam Fowler could mean big problems for the Ducks as they enter Round 1. Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are the models of consistency on the blueline for Anaheim. They’ll be relied upon heavily to stifle a deadly Sharks offence. Francois Beauchemin and Brandon Montour will be the adventure most Ducks fans hoped wouldn’t happen. Beauchemin reprises his role alongside Montour after Cam Fowler went down with a shoulder injury. It is a less then ideal 2nd pairing for the Ducks and could present problems, especially in Game’s 3 and 4 in San Jose. Marcus Pettersson, Andy Welinski, and…. Kevin Bieksa? It looks like Bieksa may be ready to start Game 1, which might be a good thing for Anaheim. Having Bieksa back in the lineup prevents the Ducks from having to throw Pettersson and Welinski directly into the fire.
San Jose Sharks – 10th (2.76 GAA)
The Sharks have their injury troubles as well. Joakim Ryan had found a home on a pairing with Brent Burns before he went out with injury. Paul Martin now occupies that spot, which inspires less confidence in that pairing then with his counterpart. The star power is there though, and there is no question Brent Burns will run the show on the Sharks back end. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun are a strong 2nd unit for San Jose. The ever-reliable and underrated Vlasic provides a steady presence, while Braun is more then capable of holding up his end of the bargain. With Fowler out, this pairing looks slightly better then what Anaheim has to offer on their 2nd unit. Brenden Dillon and Dylan Demelo, or the Dillon Dylan pairing, is a serviceable bottom unit for the Sharks. Dillon has spent time in the Top 4 in the past, while Demelo represents a solid 6th defensemen.
Edge: Anaheim (slightly)
San Jose has the star power with Brent Burns, while Anaheim has the depth. Cam Fowler returning would sway this farther in the Ducks favour.
Anaheim Ducks Team SV% since Christmas
ANA – 93.51%
The Ducks had one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL during the regular season. John Gibson should be in consideration for the Vezina this offseason, while Ryan Miller was one the better back-ups around the league. IF John Gibson is ready to go Game 1 then the Ducks will look the ride him all the way to Stanley Cup Final. Whether he can take them there remains to be seen, but if he can play the way he did all year then I wouldn’t bet against him.
San Jose Sharks Team SV% since Christmas
SJ – 91.25%
Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have split the crease at times this year and consistency has been a problem for them. Despite an impressive 15-5-4 record, Dell has struggled down the stretch and allowed Jones to regain the crease. However, Jones has been up-and-down all year, so the Sharks have some major question marks between the pipes. All it takes is for one of them to get hot, but they haven’t shown they can do that for long stretches so far.
The Ducks easily have an advantage in this category going into Game 1. However, Jones still can get hot at the right time. So, we will have to wait and see which Martin Jones comes to play.
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ANA – 23rd (17.76%)
SJ – 16th (20.62%)
The Ducks powerplay has been an enigma all season. The talent seems to be there, but it hasn’t translated into success. At times, it seems they look for the perfect pass way too often. The powerplay lacks a designated triggerman and is in desperate need of an overhaul. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be something that can change for the playoffs. San Jose, on the other hand, has seen a drastic drop in their powerplay percentage since Joe Thornton’s injury in January. They still finished above 20% and boast some deadly weapons in Burns, Pavelski, and Couture.
ANA – 5th (83.2%)
SJ – 2nd (84.8%)
The penalty kill has been a strength all season for both teams. The Ducks finished 5th, while San Jose finished 2nd. Without diving into the numbers, Anaheim’s powerplay benefited a lot from the exploits of John Gibson and Ryan Miller. San Jose’s penalty kill on the other hand did not have the same quality goaltending in front of them.
Edge: San Jose
He could be the catalyst to get things going on the shutdown line. He’s finish the season strong and will look the carry it into the postseason.
If, and that’s a big if, Joe Thornton returns this series, he will provide a massive boost to an already potent and deep Sharks offense. It’ll be a matchup nightmare if San Jose decides to run Pavelski, Couture, and Thornton down the middle.
Prediction: Ducks in 7
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April 10th, 2018