Jason Lewis writes about the Pacific Division for Hockey Prospectus
Few teams boast a roster with the capability and quality of Chicago. The top line of Saad, Toews, and Hossa have been remarkable so far in shutting down opposing threats as well as providing offense. They have their work cut out for them with Getzlaf-Perry, but this is not their first rodeo. While the 2.80 goals against isn’t pretty, they allowed just seven goals in the Minnesota series. The 3.20 goals per game they score is more than enough to make up the ground.
The Hawks fourth line of Desjardins, Krueger, and Shaw, have played some of the heaviest weighted defensive minutes on the team, and have come out on the positive side of the possession spectrum. They could be a difference maker. Vermette and Teravainen have also been sneaky good in their minutes. Simply, the Hawks can hurt you from a lot of areas.
While Vermette has been good at the dot, Toews, Richards, and Kruger have been getting it handed to them this post-season. Between Thompson, Getzlaf, and Kesler the Ducks have proven to be no slouches in the circle. D-zone draws are going to be crucial for the Hawks. The penalty kill has also been a hefty eyesore thus far. With the Anaheim powerplay clicking at a ridiculous 31-percent, Chicago needs to keep these games at even strength at all costs.
Maybe the biggest question mark of all is which Corey Crawford shows up? Will we get the Crawford from the Minnesota series? Or the Crawford who lost his job momentarily to Scott Darling in the first round. Anaheim has the weapons to make this a run and gun series, and Crawford could be under siege from the get go. Big stops will be needed. Especially when you consider the ungodly 36.3 average shots a night the Hawks have given up.
As we saw all season long, the Ducks have excelled in two areas: Winning one-goal games, and playing from behind. They have made that a science in the playoffs as well. They hold the highest playoff 5-on-5 team Corsi For percentage in one goal games, with a 56.6% in 9 games. Also, in case you did not know, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are alive. The two have combined for nine goals and 27 points in the first two rounds. Toss in Belesky’s five goals and you are talking 14 of Anaheim’s total 35 goals coming from three players.
Do not overlook Kesler (or Silfverberg) either. He has nine points, has played the Ducks’ toughest match-up minutes, and is winning a staggering 63.7% of his draws. The one-two punch down the middle for the Ducks is strong right now, and the defense has done a good job of protecting Freddie Andersen.
Anaheim has yet to face a team hat truly tests their depth. Unlike Winnipeg and Calgary, the Hawks have numerous threats and it could expose weaknesses on the Ducks bottom lines and pairings. Up until now, Boudreau has been able to get away with hiding the bottom pairing of Vatanen/Stoner and the bottom two lines with favorable zone starts against weak opposition. That will not be the case in this series. Furthermore, Getzlaf and Perry now have some elite talent to match up with them in Hossa, Toews, and Keith. The Ducks duo are doing everything right currently, but it is hard to believe they will score at the same rate under the pressures of some of the best shut down players in the game. Someone else will have to start scoring. Someone else besides Kesler is going to have to shut down some offense and take tougher minutes.
We have two of the highest scoring teams in the playoffs going toe-to-toe in this one. It has the potential of being a fairly wide open series given the makeup of both of these teams. There was a certain fragility in the Hawks during the first round, but they got down to business against the Wild. On the flip side, the Ducks have worked their way into the Conference finals looking fairly comfortable for most of the way (Despite almost never leading in the Winnipeg series). Anaheim has yet to be challenged too hard, and this will be the first true test of the postseason for them.
In the end it has to come down to depth, and the Hawks have that over the Ducks. With Toews and Hossa working on Getzlaf and Perry, the likelihood of the Hawks bottom lines producing seems greater than Anaheim.
If the Hawks keep this series primarily at even strength, and Crawford does not lose his mind, you have to like Chicago’s chances. All respect to Anaheim, but Calgary and Winnipeg are no Chicago.
Blackhawks in 6