As you may or may not have noticed, I'm kind of a huge believer of the philosophy that a solid defense wins more hockey games than a run-and-gun offense. So while I was happy for our power play's strong finish last season, I was less than thrilled with the other half of our special teams, to put it nicely. To be blunt: our penalty kill was a joke for much of the season, even so far as to be a nearly-guaranteed goal-against in the first part of the year. Thankfully the team did turn things around mid-year and finished top-half in the league in this special teams category.
There is a bright spot: a marked improvement in discipline. For years Anaheim was a team constantly punished with penalties for playing a hard-nosed style (and in recent years, paying the price for that reputation), but last year saw Anaheim finish 11th best in the NHL, taking only 199 penalties in the shortened season, and going shorthanded 162 times (a less impressive 16th in the league).
But that being said let's take a look at the stats as to how this team performed once they did go short a man or two:
2013 Stats: 81.5%, 13th in NHL. Time on ice leaders: Francois Beauchemin (153:19), Daniel Winnik (122:21), Sheldon Souray (109:45), Saku Koivu (98:28)
Projected First Unit: Saku Koivu, Daniel Winnik, Francois Beauchemin, Mark Fistric
Last Person I want on the Ice during PK: Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the guy but Teemu Selanne is not a penalty killer, and on that same note neither is Jakob Silfverberg. These two guys are heavily centered around their offensive production, high speed, and generating scoring chances, but pretty much none of those things have anything to do whatsoever with penalty killing. And it shows in the fact that Teemu played a whopping 53 seconds of shorthanded hockey last season.
On defense I really would like to not see Bryan Allen on the ice if I had my choice. He is a good physical presence when he engages with a guy, but it seems like that guy is always getting away from him and finding open ice because Allen struggles both with his defensive-zone awareness and with his foot speed to catch a guy who moves away from him. His shot-blocking upside is nice but when so many shots are taken away from lanes which he's capable of blocking, it pretty much eliminates that as a skill.
Changes from Last Year: The most obvious change is going to come in the first-pairing defensively as Sheldon Souray is going to start the year on injured reserve. Thus, I would expect to see Mark Fistric take over as the premiere top-pairing penalty killer, though I think that depends entirely on who Francois Beauchemin develops chemistry with and will start the season paired alongside. I would expect to see Ben Lovejoy get some pretty good minutes this year as well, seeing how well he proved himself last season. However what won't change is the amount of minutes Beauchemin is going to see while shorthanded. There will be a lot of them.
I think the biggest change that needs to be made for Anaheim, however, is simply a system change. Too many times last season I saw the Anaheim PK unit get intimidated by a quick-moving or high-skill power play which then caused them to collapse and give up space on the ice in which they should have been pressuring. An aggressive penalty kill is really the only way to effectively and consistently kill off penalties in the modern game, and I would like to see it a little more often from the Ducks. ESPECIALLY AGAINST THE KINGS. I have no idea why but the Ducks PK packed it in like a scared turtle every time they went short against LA last season and it cost them several goals in last year's season series.