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Anaheim must shut down NHL's best PP unit

by Eric Stephens /
ANAHEIM, Calif. — If there's one team that knows about killing penalties, it's the Anaheim Ducks.

Not that they're always good at it, but the Ducks have plenty of experience in that specialty having been the second-most penalized team in the League. But the penalty killers are facing the stiffest of challenges this postseason.

Anaheim's first-round opponent, the San Jose Sharks, had the NHL's third-best power-play conversion rate at 24.2 percent. A key part of Anaheim's six-game victory was its ability to hold the Sharks to four goals in 24 power-play situations (16.7 percent).

The challenge has only gotten tougher. Detroit was No. 1 in power-play efficiency during the regular season at 25.5 percent and is currently at 32.3 percent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the best of all 16 teams.

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said the reasons for the Red Wings' proficiency is simple -- he rattled off the names of Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen.

"They're very skilled players," Carlyle said. "They have an ample supply of skill and size. They like to do some things that are characteristic of their power play. The No. 1 thing is they have a lot of skill on their power play. They've demonstrated that."

Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger said it is the way Lidstrom and, to a lesser extent, Kronwall and Brad Stuart, quarterback the power play that makes it tough to defend.

"They've got skilled, mobile defensemen back there," Pronger said. "They set up on either side of the ice, which poses a lot of different problems. You can't really set up your attack on either side. It's difficult to defend that."

And if it isn't the defensemen either shooting from the point or directing where a shot will eventually be taken, it's the presence of Holmstrom in front of the net that makes life miserable for the penalty-killers.

"We know they're always going to have one guy parked in front of the net," Pronger said. "You've kind of got to work in front of the net as defensemen out there to try to switch off when they switch sides and go from the left to the right or the right to the left.  And make sure that somebody is fairly close to the net because they like to shoot the puck on the power play.

"It's not always tic-tac-toe. It's a pretty simplistic power play at times. It can get cute and make high slot tip plays and things like that. But for the bulk of it, they just rear back, get the puck to the point and shoot the puck, do the job in front the net and try to get the loose puck."

Checking forward Rob Niedermayer said there isn't a whole lot of difference between the power plays San Jose and Detroit try to set up. The common bond, Niedermayer said, is the presence of Lidstrom and the Sharks' Dan Boyle.

"Boyle and Lidstrom, both of them are very patient with the puck," he said. "They always seem to make the right plays. Yeah, they make it tough, for sure."

Capitals/Penguins Playoff Gear Ducks Gear Red Wings gear The Red Wings have converted three of nine man-advantage opportunities in the first two games, including one during a five-minute major penalty to Anaheim's Mike Brown in Game 1. Detroit had one power-play goal in Game 2, but had just four chances in five-plus periods.

"The whole key to our success will be if we can stay out of the penalty box," Carlyle said. "Don't give them so many opportunities to play on the power play. I think that'll be the key. Don't give them six, seven power plays a night."

Based on its morning skate Tuesday, Anaheim doesn't figure to make many changes. Barring any changes by Carlyle, the Ducks figure to skate the following lines:

                Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
                Ryan Carter-Andrew Ebbett-Teemu Selanne
                Drew Miller-Todd Marchant-Rob Niedermayer
                Josh Green-Petteri Nokelainen-Mike Brown

Carlyle is much more unpredictable with his defense pairings. Ryan Whitney has mostly played with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer has skated alongside James Wisniewski, but Pronger and Niedermayer have often been paired together in critical moments.

Francois Beauchemin is usually on the third pairing with Sheldon Brookbank, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see Beauchemin alongside Niedermayer, his old partner for much of the previous three seasons.

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