Sometime over the course of his 527 games in a Ducks uniform, it became a foregone conclusion that Samuel Pahlsson would be asked to defend the opposing team’s best center. So much so that, it was a question you didn’t bother asking Randy Carlyle.
Whenever the Ducks played the Sharks, Pahlsson put the Thorn in Joe Thornton. But now he’s playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. So who will draw the assignment against San Jose’s dangerous center in the Ducks’ first-round series against the Sharks?
“I don’t know who we’re going to play against Thornton yet,” Randy Carlyle said. “And if I did, I don’t think I’d be talking about it.”
If the Ducks’ back-to-back games against the Sharks is any indication, Carlyle would prefer to send the line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry against the line of Patrick Marleau, Thornton and Devin Setoguchi. He might not get that matchup often while the Sharks hold home-ice advantage for Games 1, 2, 6* and 7* so it’s somewhat of a moot point for the next week or so.
Still, it’s worth noting that Pahlsson lived for the type of matchups that allowed him to humiliate guys in their offensive zone. Getzlaf, for one, does not.
“I don’t want to worry about playing Joe Thornton in my zone, I want to worry about playing Joe Thornton in his zone,” Getzlaf said. “That’s kind of our focus when it comes to that kind of stuff – I’m not really looking at the defensive assignment as much as we have to control the puck in the offensive zone, and that forces him to play defense.”
Getzlaf is a good defensive player (he’s been on the plus side in each of his four seasons) and doesn’t get a lot of credit for using his size on that end of the ice. But he doesn’t possess the shut-down mentality that the smaller, peskier Pahlsson did either. Perhaps it’s no surprise that in his first four games against the Ducks this year (against mostly Pahlsson), Thornton produced just one assist in four games. In the last two (against mostly Getzlaf), Thornton notched a goal and an assist.
Thornton will get his points — he had a team-high 86 in the regular season — but playoff heroes are just as often the unsung guys. Travis Moen, for example, scored seven goals during the Ducks’ Stanley Cup run in 2007, second only to Andy McDonald. His current Sharks equivalent could be, well, Travis Moen.
Said Getzlaf, “It’s tough because they’ve got the Thornton line as well as the (Joe) Pavelski line. They’re both pretty offensive-threatening lines. It’s a matter of what our matchup’s going to be, what works.”
The Ducks can only hope it doesn’t take too long to figure it out.
(*If necessary. You knew that.)