The headlines of the Ducks’ current regular season home record of 25 straight wins will finally be overshadowed by a larger headline. A rivalry was sparked (no pun intended) between the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames the moment Mark Giordano hit Cam Fowler.
Already we have seen some heated back-and-forth exchanges between Calgary GM Brad Treliving and Anaheim GM Bob Murray as they both look back at the injury.
“I have no use for knee-on-knee hits, especially if I think they’re somewhat intentional,” Murray said. “He’s done this before. I have no respect for people who go after knees.”
The Calgary Flames are riled up to get “payback” and revenge for the 2015 playoffs when they met in the second round. The Anaheim Ducks are looking to right the wrong done to their teammate: “We’ll definitely address that, I’m sure,” center Ryan Getzlaf said. “Just because of the way the season ended with those guys and the things that went on. Playoffs are all about turning the page.”
This could get pretty ugly. Oh well—welcome to the NHL playoffs folks!
So where do we even begin? Ok, let’s start with the first player that comes to mind when we discuss the Anaheim Ducks’ defensive corps....Cam Fowler. Cam Fowler has been and still remains a critical piece to the puzzle. He was having a pretty stellar season, notching 11G-28A, making his 39 points the highest among the Ducks defensemen plus a +7 rating and the highest TOI per game of any Duck. But, his season may have been cut short when Calgary Flames captain and defenseman Mark Giordano committed a (insert expletive here) knee-on-knee hit that had Fowler writhing on the ice in pain. He is reportedly out for at least 2-6 weeks (basically first and second round of playoffs).
After Cam went down, the entire conversation surrounding the Ducks shifted. With the blue line leader down and out, do the Ducks stand a chance in the post-season?
It truly is a sad and most unfortunate situation for the Anaheim hockey club as they are left to fill in the void that Cam has left. That being said, the Ducks are one of the few teams in the NHL that is truly deep in the back end. The Ducks are certainly not looking to replace Cam Fowler, but rather spread that responsibility among all the defensemen. The emergence of Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour this season is a testament to the diligence that has been put into really bringing exceptional talent up through the farm club. Couple that with the excellent play of Hampus Lindholm and the pleasantly surprising reliable play of Josh Manson, and you will start to see the defensive depth of the organization. You can bet that defensive responsibility will shift onto young Lindholm’s shoulders moving into playoffs. Although Lindholm sat 3 games before playing against the Kings due to an injury, he has said he is up for the challenge.
That being said, that still leaves a couple of more spots—which are slotted for Sami Vatanen, who has been extremely disappointing this season, to say the least; Korbinian Holzer, who is reported to be ready to rejoin the team after he was forced to leave the country to attend to a family matter; Kevin Bieksa, who we can spend all day chastising and criticizing, so I’ll just leave him there; And Clayton Stoner, who is reportedly ready to play. These guys are the wild cards. We just hope to see their best play (i.e. least damage) going into the post-season.
The Ducks are most definitely going to be tested defensively. I spent the majority of this season (particularly the first half) complaining and ripping apart the Ducks for the inconsistent and weak defense, attributing this change to Randy Carlyle. But to our surprise, the second half was a very different story from the first half. In addition to outstanding goaltending, the Ducks became one of the top stingy teams in allowing goals. Since the tail end of February, the Ducks have continued to find themselves back to former ways of shutdown defense. The key now will be to find ways to continue this system of defensive play without Cam Fowler. The biggest fear going into the post-season for the Ducks is that the forced shift in lines will mess up any balance that the players had developed. If the offense can continue to produce the way it has as of late, it could go a long way to easing the burden on the Cam-Fowler-less blueline.
The Calgary Flames struggled quite a bit coming into the new season with new head coach Glen Gulutzan. But ,they managed to turn it around between February and March, going on a 10-game winning streak which brought them back into the post-season conversation.
The shift in attitude and responsibility has been key to their latter half success. Defense is a testament to that very shift as the Flames (along with the Ducks) became one of the tightest defensive teams in the NHL during the tail end of the regular season.
Taking at look at the Flames’ defense, it is undeniable that Mark Giordano (cue villain theme song) has led the way. Fortunately for him, in addition to many of the forwards buying into a more defensive play-style, the Flames front office did make some moves prior to the trade deadline to provide him support on the blue line. Signing of free-agent defenseman Matt Bartkowski and acquiring defenseman Michael Stone from the Arizona Coyotes provided additional stability and depth. Gulutzan has been able to find more balanced pairings with the addition of those two players.
Taking a deeper dive into the Flames’ pairings, it’s no mystery why the Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton pairing is one of the top defensive pairings in the NHL. They not only dominate possession, but they also bring out some offensive threat. Furthermore, the addition of Michael Stone has only added to the top-4 pairings by allowing for TJ Brodie to delve into a more creative role offensively.
The one big question mark for the Flames on the back end is their third pairing. The signing of Matt Bartkowski has not been exactly the best for the Flames because the Bartkowski-Engelland pairing has been quite terrible. It’s interesting because Bartkowski himself is a skilled skater and can be physical at times, and Deryk Engelland alone is a workhorse playing a physical game. You’d think the combination would work well, but the reality is when the two are paired together, they post some of the worst possession stats. The Ducks will have to exploit these two’s ice time and punish the Flames around the net.
In summary, the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames both have some work to do on defense. They both have some exploitable weaknesses. Should be fun to watch all things considering!