Takeaways: Getting Defensive

Rich Lam

Bruce Boudreau is trying out every defensive lineup he can come up with before the playoffs start. This is probably wise.

1. Ben Lovejoy might not be a top six defenseman on this team. That's right, the guy who has spent most of this season playing alongside Cam Fowler in what was arguably the Ducks' best D pairing may well find himself in the press box come playoff time. That's where he was (figuratively, at least) during yesterday's game against the Winnipeg Jets, and it's hard to fault Bruce Boudreau for that decision. Now that Sami Vatanen and Stephane Robidas are healthy, the Ducks have two right-handed shots on the blue line. While a third might be optimal, it isn't worth taking a spot away from someone significantly better. Which begs the question, is Luca Sbisa significantly better than Lovejoy? Take a look at some game film, and keep your eye on number six.

Sbisa, on the other hand, has looked like a solid bottom-pairing guy as of late, and my eye-test says he deserves more ice time than Lovejoy based on recent play. [Ed. Note: Based on a Kid ish tweet a couple days ago I took a look at Sbisa's possession stats on extraskater.com and based on that he's been playing MUCH better in his last ten games or so than his full season averages say, so there's that too. -CK]

2. I have a feeling most of you are now thinking something along the lines of, "You can play both Sbisa and Lovejoy if you sit Bryan Allen." Nothing seems to puzzle the AC community more than Bruce Boudreau's continued reliance on the big blue liner, and it isn't without good reason. He is the slowest, the least agile, and the least capable of making good outlet passes of any defenseman on the roster, and his game seems to be a relic of the pre-2005 clutch-and-grab defense that plagued the NHL for about a decade leading up to the year-long lockout.

What I think Boudreau and Bob Murray value about Allen is what he can do on the penalty kill. So many power play goals are scored when a forward gets inside position on a defenseman at the top of the crease, and guys like Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Hampus Lindholm simply are not strong enough to move big bodies away from their goaltender. Here is my challenge to everyone who condemns Allen as useless: Focus on the penalty kill next game. Try to see who is good at boxing people out and who isn't. This, I believe, is why Allen still dresses regularly for the Ducks.

Does being a penalty kill specialist make up for the rest of his game? Very debatable. I'm not saying Allen should be in the lineup. I'm saying he is in the lineup, and Boudreau knows a lot about hockey, so he probably has a reason or two.

3. Vatanen sure is a breath of fresh air, isn't he? Five points in his first four games back, and making good outlet passes all the time. But his game still needs some fine tuning. Take a look at these three goals against.

Since both Vatanen and Allen were on the ice for that Brad Richardson goal, it's tempting to dismiss it as Allen's fault, right? But Sami is the right D on that pairing, and the goal was scored from his side of the ice. In fact, there were two Canucks wide open where Vatanen should have been.

That said, Sami V is absolutely one of the six best defensemen on this roster, and he absolutely needs to be eating up ice time during the playoffs. He just isn't a great defensive defensemen, and he does need to improve in that department.

4. Open question: Who should play with Fowler when he comes back? Ben Lovejoy had the chemistry, but who is to say Fowler couldn't make anyone look good? If the Ducks draw the Minnesota Wild instead of the Los Angeles Kings, maybe the coaching staff will decide they don't need a crease-clearer like Allen, and opt to go with a lineup that looks like this:

Fowler — Lindholm

Beauchemin — Robidas

Sbisa — Vatanen

If Sbisa reverts to his old ways, either Allen can replace him in the Vatanen pairing, or Linholm can play with Vatanen whilst Lovejoy partners up with Fowler.

5. Enough with the D. Let's talk about Mathieu Perreault. Throughout this season, we have seen Perreault, Kyle Palmieri, Jakob Silfverberg, and Teemu Selanne fight through long cold streaks. Of those four, Perreault looks like the best player right now. All of these players are what you could call non-elite scorers, i.e. players who make their living with their offensive skills, but are not skilled enough to be point-per-game threats over long periods of time. Inevitably, these players are prone to both scoring streaks and droughts. Teams that win in the playoffs tend to be teams whose secondary scorers score. So in a way, Perreault or Palmieri or whoever shows up and scores in the postseason is more important than Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry. We know what those people will do. (Unless Perry pulls a 2013 playoffs. Which he won't.) We don't know what Perreault et al. will do.

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