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John Ahlers Previews the 2010-11 Season

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks
By John Ahlers

Ducks Television Play-by-Play Announcer

Following the longest summer of Randy Carlyle’s tenure in Anaheim, the close-to-the-vest Ducks head coach admitted that he and his staff identified four areas where their team must improve. However, if he came right out and gave us a list, then he wouldn’t be “Close-to-the-Vest Randy,” would he? Left to figure it out for ourselves though, it isn’t exactly impossible to make some very educated guesses.
Considering the Ducks allowed the third-most shots on goal in the league last season, you could surmise that Carlyle would like to improve his team’s defensive play. That will perhaps be the largest challenge facing Anaheim this season, as the blueline was completely overhauled this summer.

Luca Sbisa could be a big part of a new-look Ducks defense.
New faces include free agents Toni Lydman, Andy Sutton and Paul Mara. They will join returnees Lubomir Visnovsky and Sheldon Brookbank while the competition for the remaining spots could be fierce. Previous part-timers Brendan Mikkelson and Brett Festerling will vie for ice time with Luca Sbisa and recent first-round selection Cam Fowler. The 20-year-old Sbisa acquitted himself quite nicely at last February’s Olympic Games for Switzerland while 18-year-young Fowler has skills that make coaches drool. The opportunity for the youngsters to break camp with the big club is made even greater by the early camp health issues of Lydman, who has suffered through bouts of double vision. Meanwhile Carlyle has made it clear he’ll take a close look. “You’ll see a lot of Fowler and Sbisa in the preseason,” he said.

Special Teams

While Carlyle has mentioned special teams is an area that needs improvement, we’ll take it one step further and pinpoint the penalty kill. After finishing fifth in the league with the extra man and first at home, we’re not saying that unit doesn’t have room to improve, but the shorthanded group was 24th of 30 teams a season ago and would appear to be the focus.

Once again, this brings the new group on defense into the spotlight. Newcomer Andy Sutton was second in the NHL last season in blocked shots and should fill a large role with that unit while opportunities for others abound. Look for Lydman and Sbisa to be in the mix there, but more than anything it exaggerates the need for the blueline’s development to be as organic and instantaneous as possible. If it proves to be a long process, it’s likely to show here.

The Ducks, who play 8 of their first 12 games on the road, must get off to a strong start than years past.
A Strong Start
It doesn’t take a Rocket Scientist to hear the emphasis in Carlyle’s voice when he says the season begins October 1, NOT November 1. The regular season doesn’t actually begin until October 8, but then again, we’re NOT Rocket Scientists. His point is well taken though. The Ducks are a combined 14-18-5 in October the last three years since going 9-0-3 in the season’s first month on their way to a Stanley Cup in ’06-‘07. In today’s NHL (especially when so many games are decided in shootouts) it is far better to be the chased late in the season than the chaser. A good start is imperative for every team, and Anaheim’s task is made a bit more difficult, as eight of their 12 October dates are on the road.

On the Road
Anaheim struggled within the division a year ago, posting a 7-13-1 record vs. teams from the Pacific, something that had a lot to do with the team’s first ever playoff omission on Carlyle’s watch. That, coupled with an overall road record that was seven games below .500, seemed to seal their postseason fate as much as anything. Coaches usually hope for .500 on the road, and if the Ducks could achieve that both away from Honda Center and within the Pacific Division this season, it could go a long way towards an Anaheim playoff return.

How will having Bobby Ryan at center affect the Ducks?
Plenty of Questions
Internally, there are just as many questions/issues regarding the personnel and makeup of the roster that will shake out over time. The move of top goal-scorer Bobby Ryan to center from left wing brings up a few right off. If it persists, it creates two big bodies up the middle, creating multiple matchup problems for opponents. However, it also brings up many questions:

Who supplants Ryan with Getzlaf and Perry on the top line? Will Teemu Selanne skate with Bobby as his center, breaking up the Fabulous Finns as a duo and leave Saku Koivu as a third line center with new wingers? Speaking of Koivu, who will wear the “C” in Scott Niedermayer’s absence? When will injured Joffrey Lupul return to the lineup? Will it be soon enough to join the three scoring line look and will Randy Carlyle stick with that?

Whether it’s one of those queries that piques your interest or yet another, the challenges are there for this season’s version of the Anaheim Ducks as they seek a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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