Anyone who saw how the Stanley Cup was won last season witnessed the latest blueprint for success in today’s NHL.
The Pittsburgh Penguins displayed a skating game that emphasized speed and footraces to the puck at mid-ice.
“They didn’t get too cute as far as getting it out of their zone,” Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said. “They just made a decision and they were going to skate off of that puck in the neutral zone.”
Carlyle and Ducks General Manager Bob Murray took note of that style as a possible formula for Anaheim upon the coach’s hiring in June. But with the Ducks set to open the season Thursday at Dallas, they’re still searching for an offensive identity that uses both a speed-based transition and cycle game.
While they have the legs with forwards such as Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg, and defensemen Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen, their best players are among the most effective in the NHL around the net. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry work a strong cycle game and Ryan Kesler is a punishing presence and finisher in close.
Cycling is not sexy. Nor is working in the corners. But Ray Ferraro, an analyst for TSN, said the Ducks are much better suited for that even though the modern game trends toward the Penguins’ model.
“They can’t skate with Pittsburgh,” Ferraro said via email. “But … the Kings aren’t a speed/rush team and they have won multiple Cups recently.
“It is a fool’s game to chase what last year’s winner is built like.”
Ferraro favors adding to existing strengths in going for a balanced attack.
It was cloudy as the Ducks tried to figure that out in training camp. They did not have Getzlaf and Perry until late because they played in the World Cup of Hockey. Anaheim did not play a regular lineup until the final two exhibition games, and the first half of the finale was muddled with fights.
Cogliano, one of their best forecheckers, said that cycling the puck isn’t something they should stray far from, especially with their personnel.
“I don’t think that’s something that we ever want to lose here,” Cogliano said.
“But to compete against faster teams like Pittsburgh and Tampa, you have to be able to play a transitional game and a speed game too. That’s something we’re trying to implement.”
One of Carlyle’s challenges is to squeeze more goals out a lineup that lacks secondary scoring, at least on paper. Even under the more free-flowing offense of former coach Bruce Boudreau, the Ducks were 24th in the NHL in even-strength scoring last season.
Carlyle has referenced a need for players such as Fowler and Silfverberg to produce more.
“The one thing we think this group has underachieved at is the offensive side of it,” Carlyle said. “So we’ve got to create more offense, while maintaining some defensive structure and poise. We think there’s more here to offer from an offensive standpoint.”
It starts at the top as the Ducks try to heal the scars from four straight Game 7 playoff losses. Getzlaf had the worst start of his career last season with one goal in his first 29 games. Perry was their most consistent scorer with 34 goals, but he had none in a seven-game loss to the Nashville Predators in the first round.
The sting and string of past playoffs, coupled with underwhelming free-agency acquisitions, has many media outlets predicting a middling finish for Anaheim, which clings to its franchise cornerstones.
“We’re getting older,” Perry said. “We’re not going to play till we’re 70. The window, it’s still large right now, but each year, it downsizes. It’s just a matter of executing.”
Getzlaf had a strong World Cup to end a summer that saw the birth of his fourth child in July. He and Perry have had limited time with the team but Getzlaf sees the same shrinking view.
“Every time we get a little bit older and our group gets more experience under our belt, it’s only a matter of time … before you’re kind of reaching back and starting over,” Getzlaf said. “So we’ve definitely got to seize the time that we have right now.”
DUCKS AT DALLAS
When: 5:30 PDT.
On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 830
Update: Stars center Tyler Seguin is expected to play after Achilles, calf and ankle injuries set him back the past seven months. Dallas is without top-six forwards Mattias Janmark and Cody Eakin because of injury, and another, Valeri Nichushkin, reportedly signed with a Russian team. Left wing Jamie Benn was the NHL’s second-leading scorer with 41 goals and 48 assists last season.