Some say it is the biggest surprise of the Stanley Cup Playoffs' opening week.
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Whenever the defending Stanley Cup champions find themselves going on the road down two games to none in the opening round, it has to be somewhat of a surprise.
Yet five minutes into the opening period of game one, you could see it coming.
Dallas won five of eight games from Anaheim in the regular season, and although the Ducks won the final two matchups -- games that came during the Stars' late-season slide -- the Stars clearly know something about their opponents.
Last season, the Ducks rode the strength of their checking line of Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer, and Travis Moen to the franchise's first Stanley Cup. Yet in the first two shifts, Pahlsson was hit no less than three times. The stellar Swede is used to being the hitter and not the hittee, but this series would be different.
It continued throughout the first two games. Typically matched up against Brendan Morrow's line, Morrow led the physical charge against Anaheim's most physical line, rendering the checking line ineffective.
From the first shot on goal, it was clear the Stars had goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere figured out as well. Giguere is a classic butterfly goaltender, which often tempts shooters to go for the briefly available five-hole. Yet Giguere's weakness tends to be high, particularly to the blocker side.
Two of Dallas' first three goals went high to the blocker side, and the Stars shot high on Giguere all night.
Yes, these Stars have the Ducks figured out. Seven wins in ten games is more than a trend -- it's a sign the defending champs are in trouble.
Anaheim has played a strict defensive system all year, one based on structure and positioning. At the same time, the offensive system is stifling and unentertaining -- and veteran center Doug Weight essentially said so in the days leading to the playoffs.
The system is based neither on passion nor creativity and features a dump-and-chase style as the primary offensive option. Against this Dallas squad, the system does not work. The Stars have an underrated and physical defensive corps, and more often than not, Dallas has had little trouble winning the battles in their own zone.
The way to score against Dallas might be to engage in a run-and-gun style of play, one where teams trade odd-man rushes and scoring chances. Yet the Ducks have shown a disdain for that style of play this season, so one can only wonder if they will adjust Tuesday night.
Marty Turco has been solid between the pipes for Dallas, but he has not had to face many second shots. Dallas owned the defensive slot in the first two games, giving up very few chances there and allowing even fewer rebounds.
Anaheim has a reputation for getting in the goaltender's face -- some would say they get away with a lot of goaltender interference -- but that has been less prevalent without Corey Perry in the lineup. And with Rob Niedermayer -- once referred to as the human missle -- unlikely to play Tuesday with an "upper body injury," the Ducks will need to find another way to get under Turco's skin.
Unless the Ducks are willing to open it up in game three, do not count on anything changing. Anaheim plays a rope-a-dope style of play -- they like to sit back in the neutral zone, play a 1-2-2, and then utilize the dump and chase when they are on offense. For all the talk of Anaheim's forechecking style, the truth is, they often back off quickly once they lose possession in the offensive zone.
In other words, they are playing a passive game. Dallas has played a far more aggressive, attacking style in the first two games, and they have the wins to show.
Unless the Ducks figure out the Stars the same way Dallas has figured out Anaheim, it could be fall before hockey returns to the Honda Center. The personnel is certainly in place for Anaheim to change their style, but the question is, will that be the game plan?
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