The Anaheim Ducks visit the American Airlines Center tonight to face the Dallas Stars. This week is the Stars' Pacific Family Reunion, and they will be kicking things off against what was a heated rivalry only a few years ago.
EricTheHawk is the Managing Editor of Anaheim Calling. Eric was gracious enough to respond to seven questions explaining Anaheim's slow start to the year, his thoughts on Jamie Benn, and the "X-Factor" player in tonight's game. Let's dive in.
Defending Big D: The Ducks have struggled out of the gate (1-5-2 4 pts). Is this just a slump, or are there underlying concerns about this team? If there are troublesome signs, what are they?
Anaheim Calling: While one has to assume that the likes of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will snap out of what are career-worst starts to a season for them, the more pressing issue is the lack of chemistry throughout the lineup. With enough players for an entirely new forward line brought in during the offseason, the incorporation has been a struggle. Making matters even more difficult is the constant shuffling of the lines by Bruce Boudreau in search of that 'switch flip' moment. This can also be seen in the defense, as Hampus Lindholm and Kevin Bieksa have gotten off to a rocky start. Add in injuries to Simon Despres plus Josh Manson, and a backend that has already struggled with allowing more scoring chances against than Anaheim has created is even more a question.
Defending Big D: The Ryan Kesler contract this summer seemed like a lot of money. He is clearly a part of the plan in Anaheim, but how do you as fans justify his price tag? It seems to be a win-now move designed to pay off in 1-2 years. He was clearly a valuable piece for you guys in the postseason last year. Is this a "we will cross that bridge when we come to it" approach from the team?
Anaheim Calling: There is a portion of the fan base that realizes and doesn't like the handcuffing nature this deal has for the team down the road, but the belief is he is vital as a second line presence to the team competing for the Stanley Cup in the immediate future. Kesler scored critical goals last season and in the playoffs, and while his offensive production is on the decline, he still plays a solid defensive game that has the ability to in some cases take away and most others severely limit whomever he's on the ice against. Still, in a couple years it's going to be brutal seeing a third line caliber center with a $6.875 cap number through 21-22.
Defending Big D: The Stars and Ducks have never gotten along. Without a doubt, the most irritating player
in the league on the Ducks is Corey Perry. Stars fans cannot have a conversation about the Ducks without the clause, "I seriously hate Corey Perry". From the Ducks fans' point of view, who is the most hated player on the Dallas Stars, and why? You know, now that Ryan Garbutt plays for the Blackhawks.
Anaheim Calling: While Garbutt was the clear public enemy number one, not far behind was and likely moving in to that spot is Antoine Roussel. Every bit as annoying with his physical play and willingness to agitate, it also doesn't hurt that he's a more accomplished goal scorer. Plus, just look at the guy. How can you not hope he ends up with a nice bit of leather facial exfoliation courtesy of a defenseman's glove?
Defending Big D: The Stars are starting to reap the benefits of a good prospect pipeline (Klingberg, Jokipakka, Janmark, etc). As far as the Ducks are concerned who do you guys see beginning to make the transition from Norfolk/San Diego to nightly contributor in the NHL?
Anaheim Calling: It likely won't happen this season thanks to the veteran-stacked nature of the team, going 'all in' to try for a championship this year. Names to look out for moving forward include goalie John Gibson (who re-signed with the club during training camp for a three year deal that kicks in next season), forward Nick Ritchie, defenseman Shea Theodore, and possibly forward and Texas-born Stefan Noesen as well as forward Max Friberg.
Defending Big D: What sort of pace do you think the Ducks will favor against the fleet-footed young bucks in Dallas?
Anaheim Calling: With how the season has been going far, it may not matter as Anaheim has struggled setting the pace against most every opponent they've played. It's particularly vexing, considering one of offseason acquisition Carl Hagelin's calling cards is his speed, yet he like much of the team look like they've been skating through slurpee in the early going. Ideally the Ducks will slow things down, working their grinding cycle game in the offensive zone and making it tough on the Stars through the neutral zone with an aggressive forecheck. Neither of those have been consistent in the early going.
Defending Big D: In Jamie Benn's career, he has played against the Ducks more times (including playoffs) than any other team. Your team has a real familiarity with Benn, what is one part of his game that causes the most concern? How do you think the Ducks will try to play the Art Ross Trophy winner from last season?
Anaheim Calling: Benn's mix of physical power with his ability to find teammates for quality chances is formidable, made even moreso considering his line mates. While five goals and 19 points in 27 career regular season games against the Ducks isn't monster output, the fact that Anaheim will have to contend with him as well as Seguin and Patrick Sharp (who is a Duck-killer with 14 goals and 29 points in 30 games) at the same time is the biggest concern. Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg, plus whatever winger Boudreau pencils in with them have been drawing most top line match ups this season, and that will likely continue.
Defending Big D: Aside from the nationally recognized players like Perry, Getzlaf, Fowler, and Kesler, what "X-Factor" player should Dallas fans be aware of heading into their game with Anaheim?
Anaheim Calling: Rickard Rakell has continued to improve his play after gaining cult hero status in Anaheim last season, particularly among the analytics-inclined parts of the fan base. Still, the biggest X-Factor is the play of the pairing that's been seeing the most minutes per game this season in Lindholm and Bieksa. Bieksa in particular has been filled in as far as shot attempts and scoring chances allowed go, which is a real problem considering what a matchup nightmare the Stars' first line is.
Big thanks to Eric for his work over at AC and his willingness to answer some questions for us. It is going to be an exciting game tonight, and the Stars will be hoping to get back to their winning ways.