Most hockey-following eyes will be on Anaheim this weekend and upcoming week as the Anaheim Ducks will face off against NHL's top clubs. Most are watching to find any reason to point out the Ducks' success as a fluke.
Both teams will be hungry for a win after coming off losses: the St. Louis Blues are coming off an 1-4 loss to our dreaded foes across the freeway, while the Ducks will be coming off a 2-4 loss to Chicago.
Keys to the Game: The keys to this game are exactly what the Ducks accomplished the last time these two teams met. The Ducks paid for the lackluster first period against the Blackhawks and the same will happen against the Blues if they fail to exit the gate with momentum and generate some forecheck. Last time the Ducks played in St. Louis, they did everything right by starting the first period by getting the puck cleanly through the neutral zone and maintaining good offensive control. The first twenty minutes will make the difference between a playing catch up or smooth sailing.
Each team has multiple rolling lines and have huge depth scoring aside from their stars. So aside from each teams' stars, the success of secondary scoring will shift the favor of the game. The Blues will focus on shutting down the twin stars, so the other Ducks will really have to outdo the depth of the Blues. Fortunately, one can argue that the Ducks' goaltending is slightly stronger than that of the Blues. So don't be surprised to find a duel between the goaltenders seeing as both teams are highly offensive. The Ducks defense need to do a better job than the last game to help the goalie as much as possible by limiting defense lapses and clearing rebounds.
The Ducks were just beaten along the boards and in the face-off circle against Chicago. St. Louis is a bigger, stronger, and more physical team than Chicago, but Anaheim has speed. So while playing more aggressively, the Ducks should also use their speed to their advantage. Looking up the ice for clean (emphasis on clean) passes and quick breakouts will bring opportunities for odd-man rushes.
And stay out of the penalty box. Too many penalties were taken in Chicago (even though some of them were soft calls), and as a result, the Ducks wasted valuable time defending their zone. The Ducks need to do have better discipline and not get drawn into a penalty game because the Blues are pretty damn good on scoring on the power play. Anaheim's defense needs to learn from last night's failures and do a better job clearing out the puck near the crease and from the boards as quickly as possible. On the flipside, despite the 6 out of 11 success in the
practice game against the Vancouver Canucks, the Ducks are still trying to find dependable consistency in their special teams. So the Ducks are going to have to keep it simple and cycle to puck down to the short corner and look to put pucks on the net and stuff the rebounds past the goaltender.
What Can We Learn From this Game: With the Ducks are sitting atop the NHL standings, everyone is asking the same question...are the Ducks for real? What better opportunity than this game to prove skeptics and doubters wrong?
I'm sure everyone is tired of hearing the phrase "it'll be a good test for the Ducks," and cliches such as that, but that's really it. The Ducks are playing St. Louis back-to-back after playing against the Chicago Blackhawks. Can the Ducks repeat the success of earlier this season and beat the fatigue of playing back-to-back nights? When it comes down to finishing off the season after the Olympic break and facing the fatigue of the playoff schedule, the Ducks will have to dig deep and find ways to win against the top contenders, as in the first half of the season.
The Blues are constantly compared to the Los Angeles Kings. And who are the Ducks playing twice next week? The Los Angeles Kings. So this is a good way to gauge how the Ducks should (or shouldn't) play next week.
Fearless Prediction: NHL.com will somehow forget to even include the Ducks next week in the Power Rankings even after the Ducks take the 2 points in St. Louis. Suck it NHL.
Stay tuned here for updates throughout the day (lineup news, etc.) and start commenting. We'll have a quick stats pack shortly before puck drop for the in-game comments to flow.