[Ed. note: Throughout the weekend, the AC staff will be giving their outlook and predictions for the Ducks 2011-12 season. We'll revisit these posts at the end of the season to see who had the powers of premonition and who should leave the prognostication to the professionals.]
I hate predictions. I’m terrible at them and I’m pretty certain it violates about 50 of my superstitious rules. So, for my own sanity, I thought I'd keep it cut, dry and simple. Here are my 5 key factors for the Ducks heading into the 2011-12 season.
1) Goaltending - While the Ducks managed to make it out alive at the end of last season when Jonas Hiller went down hard, it may have been one of their weaknesses in the post season. Forgetting the past and looking ahead, a health Hiller and a solid back-up in Dan Ellis will be a huge factor for the Ducks in their last line of defense.
2) Scoring - The luxury of having a top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry is unparalleled. There are few other teams in the league who can boast such a powerful and dominating top line. Well, that is, when they're on their game. The fact of the matter is, Corey Perry might not have another 50 goal season. Hell, Teemu Selanne might not score another 80 points. But for a team who tends to give up their fair share of goals, they're going to need to score some in return. More important than having a great top two lines might be having a bit of scoring depth to round it out. Contributions from Andrew Cogliano and whomever is flanking his wings will be crucial. Not to mention, a pesky irritating 4th line of guys who can control the puck long enough in the offensive zone to draw a few penalties would be awesome.
3) Special Teams - The power play needs to stay on course and the penalty killing needs some improvement - duh. Better yet, the team needs to play more disciplined. Regardless of how they choose to handle themselves on the ice, the way in which they attack the net when they have the advantage, and defend their mistakes when they're shorthanded, will be essential. Of course all other NHL teams will be focusing on their special teams, and the Ducks will be no exception. For a power play unit that has been working together for an entire season, they should be better at what they do. As for a penalty killing unit that has lost some key pieces, and will be tested often, clicking quickly is key.
4) Staying Healthy - Lets face it, it was not fun watching the Ducks juggle 7 or 8 defenseman last year because of injuries to start out the season. While, yes, they're dealing with that again, this time the damage should be short lived. Once we're seeing a blueline corp at 100%, the pairings can be set and they can begin to develop the chemistry that we witnessed between Lubomir Visnovsky and Toni Lydman. We all know how much Randy Carlyle enjoys mixing things up when things don't appear to be functioning after a 5 minute trial run, hopefully, with a healthy group of guys, there will be no reason for him to shuffle the deck so freely.
5) A good start - I'm sick and tired of these seasons getting off on the wrong foot. It's irritating to know that the team is going to play an absurd amount of games before anyone else AND they're going to be behind regardless of how everyone else performs. I don't want another April to roll around as we anxiously wait for the scoreboard to pop up showing how many games they MUST win to make the post-season. I don't want to watch as players frustratingly take out their emotions on opposing teams only to look foolish and immature. I want to see teams come into Honda Center praying they might get two points because Anaheim is playing big.
If this team can stay focused they might make a serious run this season. They have some impressive forward talent and a decent blueline that has the potential to get better over time. Combine that with a healthy Hiller and a good start, this team might just be...something.