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Closer Look: Ducks must use size at Blackhawks net

by Evan Sporer /

Before the 2014 NHL Awards in Las Vegas, Anaheim Ducks captain and then-Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf was interviewed by NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes on the red carpet.

After asking Getzlaf a series of questions about his season, Weekes inquired about something Getzlaf had been rumored to tell his teammates: "Go to the net, and I'll make you rich."

"That's true. When I'm talking to [Corey] Perry and my linemates, that's 100 percent true," Getzlaf said.

Though the question may have been asked in jest, watching the Ducks’ top line and mapping out where it does its damage, it's true: When Getzlaf, Perry and Patrick Maroon are on the ice, many of the goals they score are from the home-plate area around the goal crease. With Perry at 6-foot-3, 213 pounds, and Maroon at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds, the Ducks have two large forwards who can cause trouble near the blue paint.

Anaheim's ability to control and produce goals in that net-front area is important to its offense; it will be a key for the Chicago Blackhawks to limit the Ducks there beginning with Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

In three regular-season games against Chicago, the line of Perry, Getzlaf and Maroon was intact for one; Dany Heatley and Matt Beleskey each played one of the other two with Perry and Getzlaf. None of the five forwards had an even-strength point against Chicago, Anaheim's top line was shut down, and the Blackhawks went 2-1-0 against the Ducks, winning each game in Anaheim in convincing fashion.

The Getzlaf line likely will be in front of the net in Game 1 against Chicago, and positioning and sheer size will anchor the line's offensive scheme.

In the regular season and playoffs, Perry and Maroon each has scored the majority of their goals in the space around the crease. The heat maps below from visualize from where on the ice each player scored his goals.

Perry and Maroon got to those dirty areas using their size and strength. Body position, and creating a target for Getzlaf, is key for Perry and Maroon to have any chance at making a play on a pass. On this goal against the Calgary Flames in Game 1 of their Western Conference Second Round series, Perry and Maroon each skate across the goal mouth, and Maroon ends up tipping in a Getzlaf pass.

Maroon has the puck in the corner, and Perry goes to the front of the net, looking for a pass. He has his stick on the ice, and a size advantage on Flames defenseman TJ Brodie.

Anaheim maintains possession down low, and Maroon has cycled in atop the crease. He creates a passing lane by walling off Flames forward Matt Stajan and moving to the inside.

Maroon works his way inside toward Stajan's hip and has his stick in a position where Getzlaf can put a pass. Stajan is getting outmuscled, and his stick is behind the play when the puck enters the crease.

When defending against Anaheim's top line, it's important to make the correct read and react to the flow of the play. Taking away body and stick position is paramount: It's difficult to root Perry or Maroon from a spot if they get there first. On this sequence from a game against the Blackhawks this season, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson makes a play on Perry in front of the net.

The Ducks have possession of the puck, and Hjalmarsson is defending the area between the circles. He peeks toward the blue line, recognizing Perry isn't there. With forward Marian Hossa pinching down, Hjalmarsson's responsibility is to defend the play down low.

Hjalmarsson beats Perry to the spot, taking away the passing lane and any inside position. With his stick on the ice, Hjalmarsson can drive through the puck and not allow Perry to make a play.

After Hjalmarsson clears away the initial pass, he recovers and adjusts to be ready for a second chance. He locks up Perry's stick, and Chicago is able to clear the puck.

Anaheim plays to its physical strengths by creating possession down low and use that spacing to position Perry and Maroon in front. Weighing a combined 444 pounds, they're two players who are difficult to move once they are stationed near the crease.

Chicago will attempt to deny Anaheim from gaining access to that net-front area, and how well they can do that will be a big factor in determining if they can limit the Ducks' top line.


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