Search

Mirror, Mirror The matchup between Anaheim and New Jersey pits conservative, defense-oriented teams that are strikingly--perhaps numbingly--similar

June 02, 2003
June 02, 2003

Table of Contents
June 2, 2003

Inside Lacrosse
Departments

Mirror, Mirror The matchup between Anaheim and New Jersey pits conservative, defense-oriented teams that are strikingly--perhaps numbingly--similar

The Stanley Cup finals were set to begin on Tuesday at a generic
arena in the marshland off Exit 16W of the New Jersey Turnpike,
the ideal setting for a series in which the goal judges figured
to be as lifeless as Jimmy Hoffa. There is ample parking outside
Continental Airlines Arena, but inside the Devils' home rink
there promised to be little room to maneuver in the neutral zone.
The traffic patterns probably won't change when the series shifts
to the snazzy digs of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for Game 3 on
Saturday.

This is an article from the June 2, 2003 issue Original Layout

This bicoastal matchup is built around speed, counterattacks and
two superb goalies: Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Mighty Ducks,
whose swift ascent to stardom landed him on The Tonight Show last
Friday, and Martin Brodeur of the Devils, whose bitter public
split from wife Melanie seems destined to get them on Judge Judy.
The series may well be the apogee--or if you prefer, nadir--of
the defensive trend that began in the mid-1990s and has led to
the Dead Puck era.

Entering the Cup finals, an average of 4.73 goals had been scored
in the 82 playoff matches this spring. That paltry total is two
goals fewer than the postseason average 10 years ago and almost
three below the 1988 figure. The puck-possession teams have given
way to Anaheim and New Jersey, two paradigms of modern hockey, a
game dominated by armored goalies and defense and contested in
the neutral zone when not mired behind the net. The Ducks and the
Devils have perfected the art of biding their time. They are like
two boxers, neither of whom is naturally inclined to lead,
hunkering down to a best-of-seven rope-a-dope.

They are almost mirror images of each other, doppelgangers who
prey on turnovers. The similarities go far beyond the fact that
Disney owns the Mighty Ducks and Wayne Gretzky once called the
Devils "a Mickey Mouse operation." Consider:

SPECIAL TEAMS New Jersey and Anaheim have skilled, aggressive
penalty killers who combined to defuse 88.6% of extra-man
situations and score four shorthanded goals over the first three
rounds. More often than not, however, the power plays of the
Devils and the Ducks look as chaotic as third-grade recess.

FACE-OFFS Anaheim is the NHL's best face-off team, and New
Jersey, especially when center Joe Nieuwendyk is healthy (he
suffered an undisclosed left leg injury in Game 6 of the Eastern
Conference finals), is formidable on draws. But even after
winning offensive-zone face-offs, neither team creates much in
five-on-five play. The Devils averaged two even-strength goals in
their first 17 playoff games.

THE NIEDERMAYER BROTHERS Silky 29-year-old New Jersey defenseman
Scott is facing resurgent 28-year-old Mighty Ducks center Rob,
the first time brothers have met in a finals since the Montreal
Canadiens' Ken Reardon and the Boston Bruins' Terry Reardon faced
each other in 1946. Before this season, Scott had won two Stanley
Cups and been in one other finals series with the Devils; Rob had
lost in the 1996 finals with the Florida Panthers.

COACHES Anaheim rookie coach Mike Babcock, 40, reached the finals
in his first NHL season, matching the feat of New Jersey coach
Pat Burns, who did it with Montreal in 1989. Babcock's veneer of
cockiness often camouflages his greatest asset: He is confident
enough to admit he doesn't have it all figured out. "It's been
said that nobody asks more questions than I do," says Babcock,
who was a defenseman for McGill University in the mid-1980s. He
has learned to coach by osmosis and now strews credit like rose
petals for every set play or practice drill he has appropriated;
he dutifully labels them in homage. In the lexicon of Babcock's
Ducks, there is the Detroit chip, the Dallas tap back, the
Minnesota push-the-pace, the (Todd) Bertuzzi power-play play, the
Columbus breakout and the Jacques Lemaire forecheck drill.

Meanwhile, Burns, 51, has adopted the role of professional
curmudgeon. Too bad. He has a charm that is more rough-hewn than
Babcock's, an excellent instinct for judging character and a
strong sense of narrative, which makes him a fabulous motivator.
During the first intermission in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference
finals last Friday in Ottawa, he plucked the emotional strings in
telling his team that Nieuwendyk, whose injury had forced him to
shut down after three shifts, was weeping in the trainer's room
because his Stanley Cup run might end that night. "Best speech I
ever gave," Burns said as he walked to the press conference after
the 3-2 win over the Senators. Burns was an even less imposing
hockey player than Babcock (the Devils' coach never made it past
juniors) but absorbed the game while growing up within five
minutes of the Montreal Forum. He says his earliest memory is of
his father, Albert, taking him to witness the Richard Riot
outside the arena on St. Patrick's Day 1955 following the
suspension of Canadiens great Maurice Richard for punching a
linesman.

Burns, among the most principled of coaches in his beliefs, has
been St. Patrick of the Third Line in all four of his NHL stops
(Montreal, from 1988-89 through '91-92; Toronto, '92-93 through
'95-96; and Boston, '97-98 through 2000-01, then New Jersey). He
has innate trust in checkers, turning third-liners--Brian
Skrudland and Mike McPhee with the Canadiens, Bill Berg and Peter
Zezel with the Maple Leafs, Tim Taylor with the Bruins, and John
Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Jamie Langenbrunner with the
Devils--into featured players. The philosophy rarely has been
more appropriate than in his first season in New Jersey, coaching
the least gifted of the Cup-contending Devils teams since their
first championship in 1994-95. As Burns notes, "There's not
anybody who is going to go out and put on a show."

His checkers form a de facto first line, given Langenbrunner's
playoff-leading nine goals entering the finals and the tireless
work of Madden, the shut-down center who has averaged 2 1/2
minutes more ice time than any other New Jersey forward. Burns
will use them liberally against the most dangerous Anaheim line
of Paul Kariya, Adam Oates and Petr Sykora.

GOALIES Giguere and Brodeur are Francophone netminders with
improbable save percentages (.960 and .937, respectively, in this
postseason), gaudy goals-against averages (1.22 and 1.62),
precise control of their rebounds, and goalie gurus--Francois
Allaire in Anaheim, Jacques Caron in New Jersey--with whom they
have a preternatural closeness. "It was almost funny to see
[Giguere and Allaire] in practice," recalls first-year Devils
left wing Jeff Friesen, who was acquired from the Ducks last July
with defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky for Sykora. "It was almost like
they were separate from the team. Of course, it's not much
different here."

Brodeur, 31, and Giguere, 26, might speak the same languages, but
they read different books. Giguere is the technician, a classic
butterfly goalie (box, page 48). He rarely has to attempt the
Gumby histrionics of the retired Dominik Hasek or mimic the
acrobatics of the Detroit Red Wings' Curtis Joseph because his
positioning is so sound; the puck finds him before he has to find
it.

Brodeur is, in Caron's words, "an all-around goalie," standing
up, butterflying when necessary, and handling the puck more
deftly than anyone else (box, left). Brodeur benefits from a
longstanding relationship with veteran defensemen Niedermayer,
Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, and from New Jersey's hearty
appetite for shot blocking, but the Devils don't afford him the
same kid-glove treatment Giguere gets from his team. Anaheim
cocoons its prized goalie, forcing shots to pass through a
thicket of sticks and legs and torsos. After the puck sneaks
through, the Ducks collapse around Giguere and clear the slot of
rebounds.

Giguere and Anaheim were embarrassed only once in rampaging to
the Cup finals, a 4-1 second-round loss in Dallas that provided a
blueprint on how to beat the Mighty Ducks. The Stars ran Anaheim
out of the rink, using their speed to forecheck, bang the Ducks'
defensemen and harass Giguere, who was pulled after two periods.
Anaheim, which is not very physical and does not overly indulge
in those demeaning postwhistle scrums, has conscientious
defensemen in Keith Carney, Niclas Havelid and Ruslan Salei, but
the Ducks are vulnerable to a hard forecheck if New Jersey is
willing to abandon its customary caution.

The Devils, however, are unlikely to put lampshades on their
heads and go nuts, given that Anaheim has saintly patience and
the front-end skill to exploit mistakes. The series ultimately
could turn on the eight scariest words in hockey: Colin White
with the puck on his backhand. If White, a hard-hitting
defenseman in the mold of Stevens but without the polish of the
New Jersey captain, doesn't limit his turnovers, the Devils could
lose at their own game. Expect them to: the Mighty Ducks in six.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO [COVER INSET] STANLEY CUP FINALS The Ducks Take On the Devils J.S. GIGUERECOLOR PHOTO: BRUCE KLUCKHOHN (LEFT) DUCKS VS. DEVILS THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS Salei (24) and Anaheim have allowed an average of 1.50 goals in 14 playoff games.COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA [See caption above] THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS Brian Rafalski (28) and New Jersey have allowed an average of 1.71 goals in 17 playoff games.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHOCOLOR PHOTO: TOM HANSON/AP

HOW TO BEAT GIGUERE
SI special contributor Pierre McGuire's scouting report on Mighty
Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Giguere is the most fundamentally sound netminder in the NHL.
He's almost always square to the shooter and makes tough saves
look easy because of his precision positioning. It's rare that he
gets beat on the first shot, so the Devils must make his life
more difficult by creating traffic in front of the net and
jostling him in the crease. Giguere is excellent on his stick
side and usually steers rebounds to the corner with his right leg
pad or his blocking glove. To beat him, New Jersey must shoot to
his left side, especially on rebounds. He has a difficult time
guiding shots to the corner with his left leg pad, and most of
the rebounds to that side end up in front of the net. Giguere is
almost unbeatable on pucks shot along the ice; the Devils must
elevate the puck, ideally above his shoulders and to his glove
side. If Giguere has one weakness, it's his glove hand--he
doesn't always make the catch cleanly.

HOW TO BEAT BRODEUR
SI special contributor Pierre McGuire's scouting report on Devils
goaltender Martin Brodeur

To solve Brodeur, the Mighty Ducks must keep him from getting
into the flow of the action early in periods. Consider the two
goals he allowed in Game 7 against the Senators last Friday:
Each was scored within the first four minutes of a period. To
prevent him from becoming comfortable, Anaheim must not allow
him to handle shoot-ins and catch the puck with his glove hand.
Brodeur loves to play the puck, and his glove hand is as good
as anybody's in history. Also, the Ducks have to avoid
overpassing in search of the perfect opportunity; they will
have a better chance of beating Brodeur by peppering him,
taking aim high to the stick side. Like most butterfly goalies,
Brodeur is difficult to beat with shots along the ice. While he
has greatly improved his ability to stop wraparounds, Brodeur's
biggest weakness is on plays that start with a setup behind the
net, forcing him to look around and then scramble to get back
into position.