A new series, a new opponent. Both the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks are pretty set in their ways by this point. Bob Hartley and Bruce Boudreau know who they have under their command, know their strengths, know their weaknesses. They know exactly when and where they want certain guys out.
Thanks to War on Ice, we can get a clear picture of just how each player on both teams has been used these playoffs (minimum of 30 minutes played):
There are a lot of clearly defined roles laid out, particularly for the Flames, who are far more spread out.
- The top line is very, very clearly put in a position to succeed, more so than everyone else. Johnny Gaudreau is having the best performance of the group, but Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler are also given the benefit of prime offensive zone starts. The Flames can't have that go to waste; the line needs to score. They have no excuse not to.
- A lot is being asked of Micheal Ferland as a rookie. He gets to play alongside two steady veterans in David Jones and Matt Stajan, and the group has performed very well together, even though they've played the most difficult circumstances out of everyone.
- Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, and Joe Colborne are somewhere in the middle. While Backlund is capable of handling the toughest minutes, it wouldn't do well to put Bennett in those situations this early on, especially considering how he has more offensive talent than Ferland, and that needs to be utilized.
- There's a very clear separation with the fourth liners. Brandon Bollig and Josh Jooris have been constants on the fourth line, while Mason Raymond is the only one shown between him, Markus Granlund, and Drew Shore thanks to minutes played. Still, the trio barely gets any time, they play more often in the defensive zone but against weak competition, and Raymond looks to be the weakest of the three.
- Deryk Engelland has been tasked with the most difficult competition and situations on defence, and he is not handling it well. It's not totally on him, because he's being put in a situation most players would have problems with, but someone like Mark Giordano in the same circumstances would definitely be better. It's tough.
- TJ Brodie plays in slightly easier circumstances, with more minutes, and he's performing very, very well. Even though he isn't on the top pairing, he's definitely the Flames' number one defenceman.
- Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman are put in rather favourable positions comparatively to the other defencemen, and they're struggling; Wideman is having the better overall performance, though. Russell is definitely playing above his head. Historically, he's more of a bottom pairing guy than top pairing.
- David Schlemko gets incredibly easy minutes, but he thrives in them. He could be used to help take some of the pressure off of Engelland.
- Corey Potter and Tyler Wotherspoon aren't included because they haven't played enough minutes. The Flames are effectively utilizing just five defencemen.
- The Ducks' top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Patrick Maroon aren't as sheltered as the Flames' top line, but they aren't performing as well, either. That's likely a direct consequence of the fact they aren't being given the prime zone starts the Flames' best are, but they're clearly not invincible.
- Jakob Silfverberg, on the other hand, looks like someone to watch out for. He's being put in difficult situations, just like the Flames' third line, and succeeding.
- Ryan Kesler and Matt Beleskey aren't playing in as tough a situation, but they're still playing well. This is where the Ducks' forward depth comes into play.
- And it continues as Andrew Cogliano and Rickard Rakell are right up there with them. Anaheim's lines don't have roles as clearly set as the Flames'; rather, they're much closer to each other in usage and much more interchangeable.
- Kyle Palmieri is a bit more sheltered, but performing well. Emerson Etem and Tim Jackman are the Ducks' only truly sheltered and low-played players, and look to be nothing special; the Flames' fourth line should be able to outplay the Ducks'.
- Although Nate Thompson, who hasn't played yet these playoffs, is something of an x-factor here.
- Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm have been a formidable pairing for the Ducks. They play most often in the defensive zone, but don't exactly face extremely difficult competition. Still, they're in control of the puck more often than not when they're on the ice, so they're dangerous.
- Clayton Stoner and Sami Vatanen, on the other hand, are put in prime position to succeed, and appear to be handling it very, very poorly. That's a pairing the Flames' top lines could potentially exploit.
- The fact that the Ducks got Simon Despres for Ben Lovejoy is an absolute steal; not only is Despres younger, but he's significantly better, and helps round out the Ducks' defensive depth. Cam Fowler, on the other hand, does not appear to be providing as strong a performance.
If both coaches stick to the strategies that got them through the first round, then it's difficult to predict just when and where the Ducks will be used. Beauchemin and Lindholm handle the defensive starts, while Stoner and Vatanen are sheltered. Their forwards are evenly spread out, although there are some clear distinctions, i.e. the more frequent offensive zone starts for the Ducks' top line.
The Flames, on the other hand, have extremely clearly defined roles. The Monahan line is the scoring line. The Stajan line is the defending line. The Backlund line is the tweener line, and the Jooris line is just there to hold down the fort. Meanwhile, Brodie and Engelland are relied upon to defend in the toughest situations, while Russell and Wideman need to score.
We'll see who ends up getting the assignment against whom, and if they're able to contain them. With the Monahan line's propensity for starting in the offensive zone most often, and the Lindholm-Beauchemin pairing in the defensive zone, that could be just one example of a key matchup. We'll see who wins that particular battle, among many others. It could dictate the series.