Playoff preview: Ducks vs. Stars

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

Team records and head-to-head

Ducks – 54-20-8 – GF/GA 263-203 – Fenwick Close 50.2%

Stars – 40-31-11 – 231-223 – 51.9%

Season match-up – Dallas won two of three games, oddly enough, both wins featured now-traded goalie Dan Ellis. In the three games, the Stars outscored the Ducks 11-9, once winning by a 6-3 margin, once losing and pulling off a 2-0 shutout of the league’s highest scoring team in the third game.

Offense – GVT

Ducks – 43.9 (1st)

Stars – 11.9 (10th)

The Stars’ young superstar top line will look to prove itself against the masterful Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Combined, the Ducks’ top guys scored 76 goals, while Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn combined for 71. The top lines may very well cancel themselves out. Where the advantage comes for the Ducks is in forward depth and blue line offense. Anaheim’s secondary scorers are terrific. Eight players not named Getzlaf or Perry scored more than 20 even strength points and both Mathieu Perreault and Kyle Palmieri cracked the top 25 in even strength points per 60 minutes. On defense, dynamic rookie Hampus Lindholm and Olympian Cam Fowler provide solid production and Dzone exit passes to create offense.

The Stars have decent depth with aged scorers Ray Whitney and Erik Cole and under-appreciated forwards Antoine Russell, Ryan Garbutt and Alex Chiasson. They are not as effective as Anaheim’s second-through-fourth lines, but have that “poor man’s Ducks” feel with a group of solid, but not elite, players backing their top line. Two things to watch: The absence of two-way player Rich Peverley and the possibility of a breakout series from Dallas’ top pick Valeri Nichushkin, who scored 14 goals in his first NHL season.

Defensive GVT

Ducks – 10.3 (9th) – Goaltending – -2.5 (15th)

Stars – -2.5 (17th) – Goaltending – -0.9 (19th)

There is a clear advantage here for the Ducks in defenseman. While the Stars have several solid puck-moving D-men in Alex Goligoski – who has revived his career under Lindy Ruff – and Trevor Daley, they are no match for the aforementioned Fowler and Lindholm. The two have emerged as a true top pair, both with the ability to play a shutdown defensive game and move the puck on offense. The depth on D is also an advantage. Anaheim’s third and fourth best defenseman Sami Vatanen (the team’s best defenseman in Relative Corsi) and the always-strong Francois Beauchemin are clearly better than what Dallas has to offer. Brenden Dillion has had a good year and Jordie Benn has improved, but they are far from proven. Also the addition of Stephane Robidas (from the Stars, no less) gives the Ducks plenty of options should a defenseman go down with an injury.

While the GVT‘s don’t suggest an advantage in goal for either team, if you only factor the starters, the Stars have a huge edge. Kari Lehtonen finished the year with a .919 save percentage and has proven himself to be one of the league’s most reliable in net. The Ducks do not even know who their goalie is. Will it be Jonas Hiller, who struggled down the stretch? Rookie Frederik Andersen? This could be a huge equalizer for the Stars.

Special teams

Ducks – Power play: 16.0% (22nd) – Penalty kill: 82.2% (13th)

Stars – Power play: 15.7% (23rd) – Penalty kill: 81.4% (21st)

You would think both of these teams would be better on the power play with their elite top-end talent, but both sputtered and finished the year toward the bottom of the league.

Key match-up

Seguin-Benn/Getzlaf-Perry.

Is there any way to predict which way this will go? It appears too close to call. Perry is one of the NHL’s best possession players with a +4.2% Relative Corsi and Getzlaf was the second-leading scorer in the league. The Stars’ stars were not far behind, though. Seguin finished three points short of Getzlaf’s 87 and had an outstanding +21 penalties drawn vs. taken ratio.

Key stat

Outside of the edge in goaltending, the Stars have one other leg up: Puck possession. The Stars are 9th in Fenwick Close, while Anaheim is 15th. The raw numbers are telling – the Stars controlled play this season. The numbers recently are even more surprising. The Ducks faded in possession down the stretch, going from 54.9% Fenwick Close in mid-Nov. to 51.8% by January to 50.2% at the end of the year. The Stars have been much more consistent, with their highest Fenwick Close score at 52.9% and end of the year 51.9%.

Prediction

This should be a fantastic series with elite talent on display and enough holes in each squad to make it exciting. While the Ducks have the offensive and defensive GVT advantage, the Stars have the sure-thing goaltender in Lehtonen and can control the play through puck possession. Both have mediocre special teams and experienced coaches. Despite the standings, this one looks like a goin flip. Call it a gut feeling….

Dallas in seven

Matthew Coller is Managing Editor of Hockey Prospectus. He is the long-time host of Hockey Prospectus Radio, producer of the Howard Simon Show on Buffalo’s WGR550 and their Rochester Amerks reporter, and a multi-sport play-by-play announcer.

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Follow Matthew on Twitter at @matthewWGR

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