Sharks Have Opportunity to Take Advantage of Banged-up Ducks Defense

In net isn't the only place where the Ducks are a little banged up ahead of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They're also dealing with a significant injury on the blueline, and one that will create an opening for the Sharks to exploit matchups in their favor, unlike John Gibson's potential (and increasingly unlikely) absence.

Anaheim defenseman Cam Fowler missed the final three games of the regular season, and was ruled out two-to-six weeks with a shoulder injury a week ago. Fowler finished tied-for-second among Ducks defensemen with 32 points in 67 games, just five points back of Josh Manson. Only Manson scored primary points (goals and primary assists) at a higher rate five-on-five (0.84 per 60 minutes) than Fowler (0.63) among the team's blueliners, and none scored five-on-five goals at a higher rate (0.29). 

The Ducks will miss his offensive contributions, but the Sharks can really take advantage of his absence when they're on the attack. Veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who's one of just three players remaining on Anaheim's roster that suited up against San Jose in 2009, will play alongside second-year defenseman in the Ducks' top four while Fowler recovers. 

In just over 640 five-on-five minutes together, Montour and Beauchemin have generated shot attempts at a comparable level to Montour and Fowler, but they're giving a lot of it back in their own end. The former pair is allowing nearly nine more shot attempts per hour, six more unblocked attempts per hour, and one-and-a-half shots per hour, according to Corsica Hockey. Add that all up, and Montour and Beauchemin are not only worse in terms of puck possession (48.34 percent corsi-for) than Montour and Fowler (51.94 percent), but under easier circumstances, as they also start a higher share of their shifts in the offensive zone. 

Fowler's absence, as well as Kevin Bieksa's, has affected Anaheim's third pairing, too. In the last three games of the season, Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle played rookies Andy Welinski and Marcus Pettersson together, and the pair struggled. They managed a 36.51 corsi-for percentage in just under 39 five-on-five minutes together, albeit under difficult circumstances starting a majority of their non-neutral zone shifts in the defensive zone. Bieksa, who returned to practice on Monday and could possibly play in Game 1, would help stabilize the third pairing, but not all that much: His 44.66 percent corsi-for is the worst mark among Ducks defenders that played at least 800 five-on-five minutes this season.

Taken all together, San Jose will have a real opportunity to strike when Anaheim's top pairing, Manson and Hampus Lindholm (53.53 corsi-for percentage), isn't on the ice. How much of an opportunity they'll get remains to be seen, as the Ducks will be able to use last change for four of seven games this series, thanks to having home-ice advantage.

Carlyle is no stranger to relying on his top two defensemen against the Sharks in the playoffs, icing Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger for an average of 25:34 and 24:43, respectively, per night in 2009. Lindholm and Manson averaged 24:03 and 23:01, respectively, in the last three games without Fowler, so a repeat seems likely. But, they can't play the entire night, and San Jose will need to exploit the resulting mismatches when Anaheim's top pair is on the bench.

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