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Ducks set the tone physically in Western Conference

Monday, 04.07.2008 / 11:14 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer


The Ducks are known for their physical players such as 6'5" George Parros.         Parros highlights 
Somebody ought to tell Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle it's OK for him to gloat, even just a little.

Not only is Carlyle's team about to defend its Stanley Cup title, he watched a couple of Western Conference contenders make roster moves in an obvious attempt to match the Ducks’ physical, on-the-edge style in the chance they meet Anaheim in the playoffs.

Yet when Carlyle was asked specifically if it brought a smile to his face that the Minnesota Wild, a team the Ducks dispatched easily in last year's Western Conference Quarterfinal, traded for enforcer Chris Simon at the deadline, he shrugged it off.

"I look at it and say, 'Hey, you know, that's their team, that's the route that they chose,' " Carlyle said. "We have chosen a route that we tried to apply three years ago when we came here, and we've had some success with it."

Some?

Uh, coach, winning a Stanley Cup by implementing your intimidating style is a little more than "some success." It's total success, especially considering the rest of the Western Conference has taken steps to match it.

The Dallas Stars, Anaheim's first-round opponent, had 52 fighting majors this season, which was ninth in the NHL and 16 more than they had last season. Krys Barch led Dallas with 17 fights in only 48 games.

The Wild could employ a playoff lineup that includes Simon, Aaron Voros, Derek Boogaard and Todd Fedoruk, a quartet of bruisers who between them this season had 35 fighting majors and 413 penalty minutes in only 196 games played.

San Jose made a pre-deadline deal to acquire fighter Jody Shelley, who had 13 bouts this season and has had 39 since the lockout. Douglas Murray also has a penchant for the rough stuff, having engaged in 11 fights this season.

Calgary coach Mike Keenan used Eric Godard for less than five minutes a game, but it was an intimidating 240-plus seconds. Godard had 17 fighting majors and the Flames had 70, besting Anaheim by one scrap this season for most in the League.

Cody McLeod became a regular in Colorado's lineup in December, which is big because he had 12 fighting majors, second on the team behind Ian Laperriere's 20.

"Obviously teams have taken notice, and you see more of those types of players in the lineup, specifically in the Western Conference," Carlyle admitted. "You still have to play the game on the ice, and it's the skill and the speed of the game that separates teams. We think that we have to play that up-tempo game. Other teams have chosen to add certain types of players. The bottom line, it's got to be played out on the ice surface, and it's all about the structure and the ability to execute."

Nevertheless, it's obvious the Ducks have set a precedent in the West. While no coach will say his team has to match their style in a seven-game series or face doom, the evidence gathered last season suggests that just might be the case.

Anaheim finished the 2007 postseason with 371 penalty minutes, nearly 18 per game. Its opponents – Minnesota, Vancouver, Detroit and Ottawa – combined for 297, or 14 per game. Meanwhile, the Ducks outscored them, 58-45, in going 16-5 in the tournament.

You can make a case Detroit really was the only team that didn't bite when the Ducks toed the line. The Red Wings took them to a sixth game in the Western Conference Final, and even had the series tied after four games.

Minnesota, Vancouver and Ottawa each were eliminated in five games.

So you can see why a team like the Wild got Simon to join Voros, Fedoruk and Boogaard. You know why the Sharks nabbed Shelley, and why Godard can play a huge role in minimal minutes for the Flames, as can McLeod for the Avalanche and Barch for the Stars.

"Well, it's a method of combating any team that is very aggressive and that plays an aggressive game," Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. "So you know as well as I do that you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have that aggressiveness that other team has it's going to be hard to match. So you need a good balance. You need a good chemistry on your team. These guys are part of the chemistry."

When asked if he would dress Fedoruk, Simon and Boogaard for the same game in the playoffs, Lemaire was ambivalent. But you can read between the lines.

"I think it will depend on the team we'll be facing," he answered.

It's not always about the fisticuffs and whatnot. It's about the ability to take a check, to make the right play, to be physical, to stop progression and play our game. We always respect the opposition, but first and foremost we have to respect the system that we have in place. - Randy Carlyle
Carlyle, though, doesn't agree that the Ducks’ style served as an intimidator against the Wild, Canucks, Red Wings and Senators last season. However, this season, he thinks it has had a direct effect, if only because of how the rosters have changed.

"We like to play a north-south game and we play physical, but intimidation to us is you have to win a puck battle," Carlyle said. "It's not always about the fisticuffs and whatnot. It's about the ability to take a check, to make the right play, to be physical, to stop progression and play our game. We always respect the opposition, but first and foremost we have to respect the system that we have in place."

Some critics have called that system dirty. Not so, said San Jose coach Ron Wilson, who has an intimate knowledge of the Ducks, having played them 24 times since Anaheim GM Brian Burke laid the foundation for this powerhouse.

"I've never considered any of the games dirty," Wilson said. "They are physical. There's intensity there. Always in the course of the game somebody may cross the line and then it's up to the officials to recognize the situation, but I don't think I would classify them as dirty. They play hard, they play aggressive and they are successful doing it."

So successful, in fact, that some Western Conference contenders have gone about finding ways of trying to combat the Ducks' style, sometimes even mimic it. There really isn't a bigger compliment one team can pay another.

"Brian Burke was the first one to say it, that's the way he's built that team," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "They want to be a hard forechecking team, and that's the way they play."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.



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