My Third Round 1 Breakdown, Winnipeg Jets vs Anaheim Ducks.
First I'll be blunt and say that I would be surprised if Winnipeg didn't win this series. Needless to say Ill discuss the key factors for both teams entering this series.
Team Scope: Finishing atop the Pacific Division was an impressive feat, but it was also expected by most analysts at the beginning of the season. The major improvement Anaheim has made, which is all to familiar for Canuck fans, was the addition of Ryan Kesler in the offseason. While Keslers season stats and play was average, he is a known playoff performer. He will no doubt bolster the Ducks shutdown, power play, and secondary scoring, I consider him secondary after the big two. Anaheim does, however, have some glaring holes in the team. Defense being a major question mark. With no real standout #1 Dman, or even top pairing, the Ducks will need to rely heavily on the back checking of their forward core. Goaltending is another obvious question mark. Both of Anaheims goalies played well this season, but both are inexperienced and young. With a lack of superior defense, and questionable goaltending, this makes for a bad combo. Anaheim is at risk to get exposed, especially during a 7 game series as the Jets become familiar with the Ducks weakness at these two positions, they will find ways to put the puck in the net.
Offense is not at all a weakness for Anaheim, Getzlaf and Perry have both won a cup with this team. That first line is big, skilled, and nasty to play against. This is where Anaheim will need these guys to play A+ from the first puck drop of game one. Kesler will no doubt provide many chances and probably a clutch goal or two during the series as well. Beyond the big names however, Anaheim will need some of their depth players to step up and contribute if they are to stand a chance against Winnipeg. The Ducks top players will be punished throughout each game by Winnipegs big, heavy and quick defense squad. Both of these teams are grinder type, bang in the garbage goal type teams. Neither play a particularly strong breakout game, and rely heavily on cycling and puck possession. Down low I think that Anaheims forwards will have trouble with the smother defense from Winnipeg.
Coaching: Bruce Boudreau is a fine coach, but I still consider him lower on the experience scale. He has not taken Washington any further then the second round, albeit the Ducks are a better overall team then the Capitals were during his regime in Washington. I think Paul Maurice will outcoach Boudreau during this series.
Team Scope: Winnipeg has manged to take an Atlanta team that had some good prospects in the system, but were largely underdeveloped, and work on their game bringing out their strengths and confidence. Coupled with some good acquisitions and solid drafting of late, the Jets have managed to build a deep team at all positions, with goaltending being the exception, however both Pavelec and Hutchinson have had fantastic breakout seasons. While my overall take on the Jets is that, due to their phenomenal prospect pool, they will be among the most dominant team in the league in a very short time, likely 2-3 seasons tops. I put them in the same boat as the Flames, in that, this year they are overachieving, but are showing that the potential is there, and as this young squad gains experience and enters their prime, they will be dominant. Back to this season. The Jets played hard and outworked most of the teams in the league to gain their playoff berth. This will be a huge contributing factor to what I believe will be a first round success. They will ride the momentum of a great season into the playoffs, and through relentless hard work and heart, they will be able to conquer their first round opponent.
Home Games: Although Anaheim has the home ice advantage, each game in Winnipeg will be electric. Their fan base ranks among the top of the league ever since the team was returned to the fine city of Winnipeg. The fans have endured some heartbreaks such as players making it no secret that they had no desire to live in the Peg(cough Kane), and as such have had trouble attracting big name free agents as well. The fans put this aside and cheered loud and hard for the team, even during those first few losing seasons. Watching the Jets play at home you can absolutely feel the team feeding off the fans. Intensify this by about 100X for playoff hockey. I would be surprised if Anaheim wins a game in Winnipeg.
Defense: As mentioned above, Winnipegs top 4 is impeccable and only just starting to enter their prime. Even the bottom pairing is capable of playing great shutdown hockey. Big Buff will be a huge factor in keeping Anaheims big guns on their toes. His crushing hits will be a huge factor, although his rather underwhelming defensive ability sticks out, whom ever he is paired with will more then balance this. Trouba and the newly aquired Myers are big mean and skilled defenders, and will smother the Ducks and cause tantrums all game every game. The remainder of the D corps will log steady minutes as well with little worry, as they are more then capable of playing their positions very well. Winnipeg also has the advantage of a very mobile defense capable of creating D zone breakouts, Big Buff is near the top of the league as a PP quaterback. You really can't find much fault with Winnipegs defense, and they will be the driving factor towards the Jets success in the first round.
Goaltending: I'm not sure who Maurice will go with in net, but, this could be the weakness, that if Anaheim were to win, would be the source of Winnipegs dissapointment. I believe both goalies, if they maintain their composure they showed during the regular season, will be more then enough to keep the puck out of the Jets net, they will afterall have the benefit of one of the leagues most underrated defense.
Offense: With no particular superstars, the Jets have relied on group contribution all season, and this is not at all a bad thing. They will need Wheeler and Ladd to continue to provide clutch goals, while the remaining forward group chips in just as they've done all season. After the obvious Getzlaf/Perry lineup, which is of course heavilly in Anaheims favour, I think the remaining 3 forward lines for each teams weighs in Winnipegs favour. Line vs Line the Jets forward group should be able to outplay Anaheim, minus the first line. Kesler will likely match up against Wheeler/Ladd for most of the series so they will have to find a way to outplay him, if they can do that, breaching the shaking Ducks defense should be doable.
Prediction: The games will be close, I expect Winnipeg to take game 1, then Anaheim will respond with a strong showing in game 2, leaving the series even after the first 2, then I expect Winnipeg will find ways to win both games 3 and 4, Anaheim will bring it back in game 5, and the Jets will finish them in game 6.
Jets in 6