Wow! We can’t believe the off-season is over already and it’s time for our ’07-’08 Season Preview! Oh, wait, that’s right. The off-season hasn’t even started yet; it was just the break between the Conference Finals and now was so interminable it only felt like the entire off-season. So finally, at long last, IPB brings you our exclusive take on a Stanley Cup Final matchup we actually called back at the start of these playoffs 65 years ago. (Sorry. It’s just been a really long time, hasn’t it?)
Anaheim Ducks vs. Ottawa Senators
Let’s start with a disclaimer: we are not unbiased observers of this series. We know — shocking, right? But here’s the thing…
We are devoted subscribers to DirecTV and have been since the service was first provided (Yes, this story is going somewhere, so bear with us). We signed up for it way back in the day because we’d moved into a townhouse on a private street; the other residents repeated voted not to allow cable lines to be laid on the street, and when we heard that we were like, “Fuck that no TV shit, you crazy, crazy people.” Of course, no sooner did we have our trusty little dish beaming its warm, fuzzy goodness straight from Heaven to our TV every day than all our neighbors went out and got dishes of their own. Which makes you wonder why they weren’t letting the cable lines onto the street, but whatever. They’re the crazy people, not us. Fast forward to 18 months ago, when we moved into stately IPB Manor. After over a decade of DirecTV-fueled happiness, we naturally immediately had our dish installed and our subscription to Center Ice re-upped. But perfect happiness didn’t follow. You see, Gentle Reader, we have a huge, glorious maple tree smack-dab in the middle of our backyard blocking a small portion of our view of the southern sky. It’s not enough to stop our regular satellite feed, but it’s enough to block the majority of those precious, precious HD beams. We gnashed our teeth and pulled our hair, but decided to suck it up — after all, the dish wasn’t really offering us a lot of HD programming anyway. But then something terrible happened: The World Cup. All of the games of that magical, dreamy, Italia-filled tourney were aired in HD, but we could only see those games carried by ESPN2′s HD feed. And as Zinedine Zidane head-butted his way to immortality, and Fabio Cannavaro scrumptiously licked the trophy, we had to watch in grainy, small-screened misery. Lo, several weeks later the solution to all our problems presented itself to Pookie in a dream (no joke. She actually dreamed this)… We could get cable in addition to our satellite. It was genius. And expensive. But we’d eat Ramen every day for the rest of our lives if it meant we could see the next World Cup in its HD entirety. Of course, Comcast didn’t actually have much more Hi-Def programming than what we were already getting, but there was a totally unexpected side effect to expanding our TV options, in that suddenly we had two DVRs, which meant four concurrent inputs. We could watch the Devils live while TiVoing three other games! So the 2006-2007 season for us meant following every single game for four teams, the Devils, the Sabres, the Hurricanes and the Penguins (yes, we watched two games a night. Every night. Sometimes our tertiary or quarternary teams had to wait a day before we could watch them, but they were cool with it). So how did those favorite teams of ours fare after all the dust had settled on their campaigns for this season? Out of the playoffs, lost in 5 to Ottawa, lost in 5 to Ottawa, and lost in 5 to Ottawa. We do not pretend to be especially smart, but even we can see a pattern there.
In short, Gentle Reader, we’re really, really tired of watching the Senators win.
So where does that leave us heading into the Finals? It leaves us Ducks fans, that’s where it leaves us. Seriously, though, we’ll admit the Senators are an incredibly good team. They have a dominating line in Alfredsson, Heatley and Spezza, they have good numbers on the special teams, they have a terrifying D-corps, and they’ve seemed pretty unflappable. But we’re underwhelmed by the opponents they’ve faced, and being deeply familiar with the three teams they’ve vanquished, we can say with some confidence that the Senators have not been called upon to be world beaters. Their penalty kill looks impenetrable, but the Pens, Devils and Sabres were all so discombobulated on their own that we suspect even we could have stopped them. Not one of those teams physically challenged the Senators, either; the entire Ottawa lineup could have been skating with a dozen eggs in each of their uniforms and wouldn’t have cracked a single one. Furthermore, for all that their power play was a relentless scoring machine during the second round, it dried up something awful against as woefully lost a team as the Sabres. Then there is the vaunted Ottawa depth; yes, they have a bunch of second-, third- and even fourth-line guys who can score, but the brunt of the offense has been coming from the top guns. They outplayed Buffalo so badly they should have won every game 6-0, but because of an anemic PP and lack of scoring from unexpected players, the games all ended up looking closer than they really were. The one game they lost to the Sabres was the one game in which the Spezza/Heatley/Alfredsson line didn’t come through. And there’s one other thing we find suspect about the Senators… what is it, again?… Oh, it’s just on the tips of our tongues… Right. Goaltending. Ottawa hasn’t faced anything from any of its opponents thus far that even vaguely resembles offensive pressure. If he’s facing an attack more potent than 15 weak shots with no one crashing the net on the follow-through, can Emery still win?
So while they’ve been quite good so far, we clearly still think the Senators can be beaten, specifically by a fast, hard-hitting team with scoring depth, strong D and unfailing discipline. We, uh, don’t think the Ducks are that team. But we’re hoping beyond hope that they can at least pretend to be for four of the next seven games. We may not have payed even the slightest bit of attention to the Ducks during the regular season, but we still get the distinct feeling that they, like the Sabres, Devils and Penguins before them, have been strangely unable to figure out how to bring their “A” game. On top of a troubling lack of offensive cohesiveness that forces Randy Carlyle to shorten his bench every night, they take more stupid penalties than it seems humanly possible to fit into 60 minutes of hockey. Compounding that problem is the fact that their penalty kill is more often than not a complete nightmare. There were encouraging signs in the Ducks’ Game 6 WCF victory over Detroit that they might be figuring their shit out, though — the top line wasn’t invisible, the second line was indomitable, and the PK (at least for the first 40 minutes) held the Red Wings at bay. And Giguere has been playing out of his mind; it might not look pretty, but he just makes one huge stop after another. Furthermore, this is a team that isn’t impressed by any airs of venerability its opponent might be putting on. They are content to take liberties (some of them stupid and deservedly penalized) against anyone, no matter how much the other team might be presenting itself as The Hope Of A Canadian Nation.
Do we think the Ducks can beat the Senators? You bet. Do we think they will? Well, here at IPB it really all comes down to one thing: the much-vaunted Drew Stafford factor. Since neither team has Stafford in their lineups — or even anywhere on their rosters or depth charts — we revert to the tie-breaker: The Crunchy Factor. No, neither team has Crunchy on their rosters either (God, this Finals sucks!), but Anaheim very cleverly has the next best thing, Baby Crunchy. So it is on the strength of the presence of young Drew Miller in their room that we pin our hopes on the Ducks, and stand by our prediction made yon in ancient times…
Ducks in 6.