— Dave (@takenoyujin) May 11, 2015
The Ducks and Hawks are set to square off in the Minnesota State Division, uh, I mean, the Western Conference Finals. I apologize in advance for the Might Ducks movie references, but this is the first time the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks have ever met in a playoff series, so it’s necessary to do so. The Hawks are pretty similar with the Conference Finals, as they’ve made it this far for the third year in a row, and for the fifth time in the last seven seasons. The Ducks, on the other hand, haven’t been this far in the playoffs since way back in 2007 when they beat the Red Wings and then went on to win their first ever Stanley Cup.
The Ducks have made it look pretty easy so far. Gordon Bombay, err, I mean, Bruce Boudreau’s squad has only lost one game so far throughout the first two rounds of playoffs, and they’re fresh off absolutely dominating the Flames in five games. The Hawks haven’t really had it too tough either, though.
Chicago was pretty much everyone’s favorite to come out of the West, but based on the way the Ducks have carved their way through the first two rounds, this could be a pretty interesting series. Anaheim hasn’t been challenged yet, so how will they fare against the toughest competition available?
The Ducks and Hawks only faced each other three times throughout the regular season, but in those three games, the Hawks had a pretty commanding advantage.
The Ducks grabbed a 1-0 win in their first meeting of the season backed by a really good, 38 save performance by John Gibson. The next two games turned in Chicago’s favor. The Hawks earned two 4-1 victories, and they heavily outshot the Ducks in both games. Patrick Kane absolutely roasted the Ducks in those two games, scoring four goals with an individual Corsi For of 15.
There’s not a hell of a lot to get into here, because long story short, the Hawks dominated the Ducks in all of the teams meetings this season and the Ducks managed to steal one win. If this season series says anything, it’s that Chicago is the better team, and Anaheim is going to need to pretty strong goaltending, or well, some pretty awful goaltending from Chicago to stand a chance. Of course, that’s just the regular season.
The Ducks were the most dominant of any team in the second round of the playoffs at even strength. This is likely because they played the Flames, who have been riding a funny combination of some incredible luck and a really bad even strength CorsiFor percentage (case and point, game five, the Ducks doubled the Flames in shot attempts). They dominated the Flames, and to a lesser extent, the Jets in pretty much every statistical category at even strength, which would make sense, because they’ve only lost one game so far. It’s kind of tough to gauge if this will stand against the Hawks, because the Ducks have had a pretty easy road so far, so let’s look at their regular season data instead.
During the regular season, the Ducks were right in the middle of the league in terms of CorsiFor and FenwickFor percentage. They also finished the year with an even strength, score adjusted PDO of 100.4, which was also in the middle of the pack. The weirdest thing about the Ducks is the fact they barely scored more goals throughout the year then they allowed. Their Goals For percentage was 51.6 at even strength, and just 50.8 with all situations considered. That’s kind of bizarre for a team who won 51 games. To me, this suggests that the Ducks play their best hockey in tight games, and they’re capable of hanging on to leads when it counts, although their stats adjusted for even strength leading/trailing doesn’t really suggest anything like that. The Ducks are a curious team. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say they’ve been the benefactor of a high shooting percentage, and some good luck throughout the year.
The Hawks were pretty easily the better team throughout the regular season. They finished towards the top of the league in Corsi percentage, but they finished slightly lower in Fenwick For and Shots For percentage, meaning they drive possession and get a lot of pucks towards the net, but they don’t necessarily get them on net, or turn them into scoring chances. That would certainly explain their hilariously low shooting percentage, which is third worst in the league at 6.97 per cent. Despite that, them and the Ducks have damn near the same PDO because the Hawks had the second best even strength save percentage behind none other than the biggest one man show in the league known as the Montreal Canadiens.
So the Hawks have a pretty huge advantage at even strength, but the Ducks must make up for it with their special teams play, right? Wrong. The Ducks take a lot of penalties and they have a league average penalty kill. They also don’t get many power play opportunities, and when they do, they don’t score, as they boast the third worst power play percentage in the league. Yikes. Oddly enough, the Ducks have the best power play percentage so far in the playoffs. That’s right, the team who couldn’t score a power play goal this season to save their lives, scored nine goals on 29 opportunities. But then again, that could be another example of them playing against weaker opponents. I’m going to guess that the Ducks’ true power play is closer to their regular season numbers than the ones they’ve put up through their nine playoff games, but hey, it’s a totally different game in the playoffs.
On top of that, the Hawks haven’t exactly been world beaters on the penalty kill either. In fact, their 83.4 penalty kill percentage throughout the regular season has slipped down to 72.7 per cent in the playoffs. Again, though, averages would suggest that Anaheim’s ugly regular season power play and Chicago’s above average regular season penalty kill would erase what’s happened through the first two rounds, but anything can happen, especially considering Anaheim’s numbers are likely inflated.
After his train-wreck of a first round series against Nashville, Corey Crawford has remembered how to play goalie. It wasn’t that long ago that he lost his starting job to Scott Darling, but he was given the net back in the sixth and deciding game in the Nashville series, and he hasn’t looked back. In his four games against the Wild last round, he helped the Hawks put together a 97.0 team save percentage at even strength, which was by far the best of anybody in the second round.
Frederik Andersen, on the other hand, certainly hasn’t been a slouch. Although he hasn’t faced tremendously difficult competition, he’s played well when he’s been called upon. Throughout the playoffs, the Ducks have a 93.4 team save percentage in even strength, close situations, which is only slightly better than Andersen’s 92.5 save percentage throughout the season.
Neither team really pokes out here with a glaring advantage in net. Crawford looked really good against a mediocre offensive team in Minnesota, and he looked awful against a good offensive team in Nashville. Andersen has been solid and consistent against two pretty vanilla teams.
The Hawks have the advantage up and down, inside and out. They’re the better team here and it’s really hard to suggest otherwise. They dominate at even strength, they had solid special teams throughout the year, and Anaheim had a weirdly successful season despite being a middle of the pack possession team and having a very tiny goal differential. The Ducks also haven’t been challenged at all yet, so facing Chicago is going to be a huge shock. Gordon Bombay is going to have to pull something incredible from his bag of tricks, or else this could be a pretty quick series, in a bad way.
I’m going to have to guess Hawks in six. Sorry, the V isn’t going to fly.
Stats courtesy of War on Ice and Hockey Reference.