Closer Than You Think
On The Road With DotCom
Thursday, 04.10.2008 / 5:00 PM / Feature
By J. Douglas Foster
Playoff previews, it seems, are all the same.
Inevitably, newspaper columnists, NHL beat writers and on-air talent try to summarize why one team will win each Stanley Cup playoff series by analyzing two – maybe three key stats and a storyline, picking a winner based on those few numbers.
We’re not quite satisfied with analyzing the Stars’ opening round playoff series with Anaheim based on a few simple numbers. To really get into a series, you have to get into the personnel – all the personnel. Match ‘em up, position by position, and see who has the edge. Then, rather than making a pick, we’ll let you decide who really has the advantage. Once you analyze all the matchups, you might just find the Stars have a better chance at winning this series than most of the scribes league wide are giving them.
A common misnomer still lingering is that this Stars team is, like ones in the past, built solely on a defensive system, and that they don’t have the ability to score goals.
Nothing could be less true.
In fact, Dallas’ 237 goals this season was second among Western Conference teams, trailing only Detroit. The biggest reason for the high rating is the Stars’ top duo of Brenden Morrow (32 goals) and Mike Ribeiro (27 goals). That pair played at times with Antti Miettinen (15 goals) and other time with Loui Eriksson (14 goals). No matter who was beside them, they proved to be an unstoppable pair for much of this season.
Add in deadline-day acquisition Brad Richards, a proven playoff performer who had 20 goals between Tampa Bay and Dallas, 500-goal scorer Mike Modano and a career-year from Niklas Hagman (not to mention Jere Lehtinen, who still managed 37 points in just 48 games), and the Stars have a top six that’s tough to match.
On the flip side is a talented mix of young starts and an experienced superstar. Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne and his 552-career goals leads that group, while youngsters Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Kunitz add grittiness with scoring touch. What hurts the Ducks is the potential absence of leading goal scorer Corey Perry, but even with him, it doesn’t appear Anaheim is capable of matching Dallas’ scoring up front. The Ducks finished 14th out of 15 Western Conference teams with just 197 goals this season
As much as there is to love about the career year form Stephane Robidas, the emergence of youngsters Matt Niskanen, Mark Fistric and Nicklas Grossman and the return from injury of Philippe Boucher, this is still an area where the Ducks are almost without peer.
Only the Detroit Red Wings come close to matching Anaheim’s blue line, which is the best in the league. And while hard hitting, nasty, talented ice eater Chris Pronger grabs much of the attention with his physical dominance, it was Scott Niedermayer’s return that helped make the Ducks the best blueline yet again. Hey, 183 playoff games, four Stanley Cups and the 2007 Conn Smythe trophy mean something, right? Add in his perceived replacement in Mathieu Schneider, talented youngster Francois Beauchemin and the underrated Kent Huskins, and you’re looking at a D-corp with no weakness. What hurts Dallas even more is the absence of Sergei Zubov, out indefinitely with an injury and one of the few guys in the NHL who commands the same respect as Pronger and Niedermayer.
I’ll start by pointing out that Marty Turco is one of my favorite players – amend that, one of my favorite people – in professional sports. Yet as much as I enjoy watching him play, you can’t, at this point, give him the edge over Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Turco did silence many critics last season with his performance against Vancouver, which was nothing short of spectacular. But critics still want to see him win a big series, something he hasn’t done since his first series as an NHL goaltender.
And his counterpart? Well, Giguere is 21-13 in his playoff career with a 1.85 goals-against average, having reached the Stanley Cup final twice, winning once and taking home the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in a losing effort in 2003.
Pretty darned impressive.
STARS POWER PLAY vs DUCKS PENALTY KILL
This matchup was decided for us during the regular season series.
The Ducks, as they like to do, tried to intimidate the Stars physically. As a result, Anaheim got itself into penalty trouble, and the Stars were more than willing to take advantage.
The Stars cashed in on 23.7 percent of their power plays in the season series, a leading reason for Dallas winning five of the eight games. No doubt the Ducks PK will be better in the postseason when Pronger is given more leeway to be his nasty self in front of the net, but the Stars do still have the kind of talent that can thrive with the man advantage – even without Zubov.
DUCKS POWER PLAY vs STARS PENALTY KILL
Pronger’s booming point shot? Check.
Niedermayer’s skating ability and unmatched puck skills? Check
Selanne’s ability to bury prime opportunities? Check
Getzlaf’s ability to get to the front of the net and use his 6-4, 211-pound frame to create havoc? Check.
Yes, the Ducks have all the necessary ingredients for a great power play.
But in this series, they’ll be going against a penalty kill that led the league until the season’s final day, finishing second in the NHL with an 85.5 percent kill rate. It’s a strength-on-strength matchup, but successful penalty killing might be the Stars’ greatest strength.
See? Pretty close. Probably closer than many would lead you to believe. These teams finished two wins and five points apart playing the exact same schedule, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t play the first five, six or even seven games of the playoffs just as close as they did the 82 regular season contests.
Predictions? None here. Just analysis. Any prophesizing or soothsaying is in your hands. Use the above comparisons wisely, and remember, just like at Bushwood Country Club, gambling is illegal at Dallasstars.com.