The Anaheim Ducks are in excellent position as they head to Dallas on Monday night to try to grab a 3-0 series lead over the Stars in their first-round playoff series. They’re getting excellent scoring from their key guys like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, solid goaltending from youngster Frederik Andersen, and displaying team speed that has helped them to skate with a Dallas team that was one of the leading candidates to pull an upset in the first round of the playoffs.
Even with all of those attributes, there are still areas of the Ducks’ game that need to be addressed. Their play in the late sequences of games has been good, with a key penalty kill in the late stages of Game 2, but overall they are allowing way too many shots on goal, as they’ve surrendered 71 to the Stars in the first two games of the series. They’ve also given up two power play goals in 11 attempts against, which on its face isn’t bad but does mean that they are surrendering far too many chances on the man-advantage for the Stars.
If the Ducks are going to grab a stranglehold on this series by winning on Monday night in Dallas, that is the first area that they need to clean up. They’ve been undisciplined in committing a slew of penalties, and they also have been ceding control of the pace and tempo of games far too often.
The Stars are a team that is capable of moving the puck up the ice quickly, but they also can clog up the neutral zone with their bruising physicality, and the Ducks have had trouble at times adjusting to those scheme changes during games.
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Anaheim also has to make sure that they continue to play hard in games even if they build up a substantial lead. They were up by four goals in Game 1 before the Stars stormed back, losing by just one goal. The Stars also nearly came back in Game 2, losing again by a goal after the Ducks had built up a 3-1 lead thanks to a short-handed goal. Perry addressed that inability to finish games strong as he spoke to the media after practice Monday:
“Yeah, naturally you’re going to sit back and you’re going to try to protect the lead. It’s hard because we talk about it between periods, don’t sit back, don’t sit back. But when you get out there, it’s just in your nature to do that. If you’re playing your game, still attacking, and getting the puck in deep, you’re going to be alright.”
In addition to playing a more disciplined game and making sure to continue pressing the issue on offense even if they build up a lead, the Ducks must also continue to win the matchup battles in the game despite being on the road. As the road team, the Ducks have to submit their line choices first, so they won’t be able to match up their top defenders against Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn like they have in the first two games of the series. Those two are capable of doing a lot of damage, so the Ducks have to be careful about how they approach defending them if they end up with a matchup that doesn’t work out in their favor.
All of these strategies that the Ducks have to employ are fairly simple ones from a hockey perspective, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. The team has been committing too many penalties and not playing aggressively enough at times on offense, but they have made up for it with their goaltending and their ability to keep guys like Seguin and Benn largely intact. If they can continue to play that kind of defense and shore up some of their weaker areas that have been exposed in the first two games, then they should be able to win at least one game in the Lone Star State, setting up a potential series-clinching game in Anaheim later this week.