Ducks: Season Preview (Act I)

ESPNLosAngeles plans to take a closer look at the Kings and Ducks each day heading into their season openers Oct. 7 in Europe. Where are their strengths, their weaknesses? Which star player will continue to shine, and which might struggle to maintain their previous levels? We put the Ducks under the microscope beginning today.

What area will the Ducks likely show the most improvement? In goals-against average last season, the Ducks finished 20th out of 30 teams in the league at 2.84 a game. Only two teams with a higher GAA made the playoffs; Tampa Bay and Detroit. If goalkeeper Jonas Hiller continues show he has recovered from the vertigo-like symptoms that sidelined him for the second half of last season, this number should drop considerably. Couple that with a year of experience under the belt for second-year defenseman Cam Fowler and there’s no reason the Ducks shouldn’t be better in this department. Another area the Ducks have shown improvement the last few years is their tendency to commit a lot of penalties. They still have a long way to go, however. They were 26th in the league a year ago, which isn’t bad considering they were 28th in 2009-10, 29th the season before that and 30th the two years prior. Of course, the Ducks finished dead last in that category in 2006-07 and still won the Stanley Cup that season.

Where will they likely slide? It would be tough for any player to match what Teemu Selanne did last season. The 41-year-old right wing had 31 goals and 49 assists in 73 regular-season games, the third-highest point total for an NHL player age 40 or older. At some point, however, Father Time will catch up with the Finnish Flash, or at least slow him down. Selanne figures to get his share of points on the power play, but he might find his opportunities somewhat more limited on 5-on-5. He has been skating with Saku Koivu on the second line, and he’s no young buck either, turning 37 in November. His other linemate could very well be Jason Blake, who just turned 38.

When is the toughest stretch of the season? Like the Kings, the Ducks open the season overseas, playing in Selanne’s hometown of Helsinki, Finland and then finishing off with a game in Stockholm, Sweden. While history has shown teams have a tough time finding their footing after starting the season overseas, the Ducks have been just plain aweful, regardless of where they’ve opened the season. The last four years they've started 4-7-1, 4-7-2, 1-5-0, and 4-7-2. They've proved that a great start to the season can carry over to a fabulous finish. They began the 2006-07 season with a 12-0-4 record and proceeded to win the Stanley Cup. It probably won't help their chances of getting off to a fast start when they play a seven-day road trip beginning Oct. 25.

When is the Ducks best opportunity to move up the standings? While the Ducks have been coming out of the gate like an aging thoroughbred the last couple of years, they’ve looked like Zenyatta down the stretch. Despite not having the services of Hiller, the Ducks went 23-14-4 in the second half last season, the eighth-best mark in the NHL. The schedule sets up well for them to make another late run this season. From Jan. 6 until March 12, the Ducks are scheduled to play 32 games and 23 of those opponents did not make the playoffs last season.