2. Lock Down Defense
The Dallas Stars showed the way, smothering the opposing team’s offensive forays to the tune of the second-best goals-against mark in the NHL last season. In some ways, it wasn’t too dissimilar from the Ducks’ manner of play in the final years of Bruce Boudreau, when scoring was a challenge thus tight defensive play was considered the path forward.
Fast forward to the Dallas Eakins era and the former strong defensive play of the Anaheim Ducks wilted to fall into the bottom 10 teams in the league. Former strong defensive players such as Josh Manson and Hampus Lindholm visibly struggled with the lack of defensive structure.
In many ways, it seemed that the Ducks were requiring the defense to score more freely at the expense of defensive play, and have the forwards focus more on the defensive play than the offense. Under certain circumstances, that scenario could pay some dividends, yet for the 2019-2020 Anaheim Ducks, it helped them to nothing but hardship.
Thus, with a somewhat fragile offensive group, the Ducks will need to tighten up on the defensive end and attempt to reduce their goals against to under three goals per game. On paper, the Anaheim Ducks will have the defensive unit to make it happen. Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, and Christian Djoos is an extremely good top-5 group of defencemen.
Drawing back to the strong link play commentary given in the forward group section, it seems likely that the Ducks can have a strong defenceman on the ice at every moment of the game. There is simply no excuse for them not to have a strong defensive presence. Even the 6th and 7th defencemen, likely to be one of Jacob Larsson, Josh Mahura, or Brendan Guhle, should have little issue fitting in with less responsibility than they were required to shoulder last season.
There is a case to be made that Shattenkirk is not the strongest defensive player in the world and that the player he is essentially replacing in Erik Gudbranson had a much stronger than expected season last year. There is also a case to be made that Shattenkirks “bounceback” year came while on the best team in the league. All of which may be true, however, the newcomer does provide a surety in the defense that was missing and lacking for the Ducks last year.
With the current group, there should be scope to drive the offense with a Fowler-Shattenkirk pairing when the scoring is tough to come by. This also comes with a Lindholm-Manson defensive tandem that can lock offensive teams away. Perhaps the more beneficial set up would be to mix these pairings, given each a nice skating offensive presence and a more steady defensive stalwart. A Fowler-Manson and Lindholm-Shattenkirk for example. This, of course, is a puzzle for the Anaheim Ducks coaching staff to figure out.
Yet, for the Ducks to climb back into playoff contention, they will need to give their all-world netminder, John Gibson, every chance of playing his trade to the best of his abilities. Last season, Dallas provided the blueprint, yet for the players on this very Ducks team who have played through a similar cycle of defensive strength, they may already know the way.