(Sports Network) - Now that the business of bronzing franchise icon and international star Teemu Selanne is through, the Anaheim Ducks can finally get down to the business to which they should have been paying attention all along: making a dent in the stacked Western Conference when it counts. Bruce Boudreaus club heads into the season having posted a franchise-record in wins (54), and as the two-time defending champions of the Pacific Division and the club which sported the most points (116) in the West. However, theyre going to need to figure out a way to get past the Blackhawks, Blues, Avalanche and rival Los Angeles beyond the regular season to be considered a legitimate threat. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. It was those same Kings who upended Anaheim in a second-round series which went the distance and featured several momentum swings: the Ducks were down 0-2 before rallying to win three straight, then dropped the last two, including Game 7 on home ice to the eventual Stanley Cup champions. Perhaps a little less Selanne worship and better attention paid to things like the carousel in the crease, and Anaheim might have reached the conference finals for the first time since winning it all in 2007. Nonetheless, with a fresh start, a roster stocked with predominantly young talent allowed to grow and experience the pain and frustration of loss under certain expectations, we could see a team using the regular season as a mere testing ground for greater things. That, or Boudreau will have to guide his charges through the proverbial down season after pushing it to the floor the last two years. FORWARDS - The top lines are anchored by the longest-tenured Ducks in Hart Trophy candidate, team captain and center Ryan Getzlaf (team-leading 56 assists and 87 pts.) along with winger Corey Perry (team-high 43 goals). New addition Ryan Kesler from Vancouver brings 25 goals to the mix, solid but well below his 41 of 2010-11, and hell have to maintain that pace and do better than a minus-15 to remain a viable option up front. With Nick Bonino gone up the coast for Kesler, Dustin Penner making pancakes at home, Mathieu Perreault moved on to Winnipeg, and five forwards either UFA or RFA come July, its a spin of the roulette wheel to see who can contribute in a significant manner. Dany Heatley, who saw his playing time diminished significantly in Minnesota, gets one last go-round on a one-year deal. The former 50-goal scorer is already hampered by a groin issue and while no one is expecting his output to match his days with the Senators, he has to remain healthy to justify the expense. Jakob Silfverberg (10G, 13A) needs a breakout season to prove he wasnt just a throw-in on the Bobby Ryan deal; pressures on Andrew Cogliano after a career- high 22 markers; Flyers reject Patrick Maroon (11G, 18A) began to throw his weight around as the season progressed; Devante Smith-Pelly needs to develop his speed and learn how to use his size properly; Kyle Palmieri (14G, 31 pts.) needs to continue to respond well to increased playing time; Matt Beleskey is a dark horse in a contract year and eyes are on Emerson Etem to see if he can handle increased responsibility. Daniel Winnik wont be counted on for his shooting prowess, but the checking- line veteran has proven himself a capable defensive center and his lines have been consistently tough to score against. Nate Thompsons arrival from Tampa adds size and toughness not present in Saku Koivu, while Rickard Rakells foray into NHL time last season will be challenged by the slicker-skating William Karlsson. DEFENSE - A defense which allowed the ninth-fewest goals (203) and goals-per- game (2.48) remains intact for the most part -- with the notable subtractions of Stephane Robidas and promising youngster Luca Sbisa. Francois Beauchemin and Bryan Allen, the Grand Old Men of the Blueline, are 34 years old each and carried a plus-26 and plus-20, respectively through some heavy minutes against some top talent. Ben Lovejoy, 30, was a plus-21, while Mark Fistric played in just 34 games and clocked in at plus-28. Clayton Stoner, 29, fresh from roughly 13 minutes per night in Minnesota, will surely see his numbers rise in that department with similar ice time. At the other end of the spectrum lay 23-year-old Sami Vatanen, 22-year-old Cam Fowler and 20-year-old Hampus Lindholm, all of whom played beyond their years. Vatanen might be Beauchemins heir apparent with puck movement and shooting on the power play, Fowler -- at a touch above 6-foot and 200 pounds -- provides edge that Sbisa couldnt, while Lindholm recorded the best plus-minus (+29) of all during his pleasantly-surprising rookie NHL campaign. The future looks even brighter. Sheldon Sourays 35-plus deal has one more year to run, so Jesse Blacker, Mat Clark, Josh Manson and Shea Theodore have a chance to break through with good years in Norfolk. GOALTENDING - What proved to be a thorny issue despite the clubs overall success last season has been cleared up somewhat. Gone is long-time starter Jonas Hiller to Calgary, whose exit appeared forced by Boudreau due to a season interrupted by injury and inconsistent play thereafter which earned him a seat on the bench in favor of the younger Frederik Andersen, the departed Viktor Fasth and the surprising John Gibson. At just 20 years old, Gibson earned enough confidence with his late-season surge (3-0-0, 1.33 GAA, one shutout) to gain the starting spot in the playoffs, but his brilliance wasnt enough to overcome the combined forces of the battle-tested Kings in an elimination contest. Andersen (20-5-0, 2.29 GAA in 28 games), a native of Denmark, turned in a rookie campaign beyond what anyone could have guessed and will be hard-pressed to repeat the feat. Anything close will be viewed as promising. Both youngsters are likely to have journeyman Jason LaBarbera (1-3-0, 3.28 GAA for the Oilers) serve as a veteran counterpoint-slash-cheerleader if things get tough. WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - Theres enough veteran flair in all three zones to ensure that youth will be served properly, but an unstable situation in the crease could derail what looks like a contender for another Pacific Division title. Selannes new book brought to light that not everyone is enamored with Boudreaus methods and personality, but hes pushed all the right buttons since taking over in November of 2011 and doesnt look like the leaders in the locker room have soured on him yet. The best case scenario, is that the Ducks will use last seasons untimely end to fuel their 82-game schedule as a prelude to playoff success. At worst, it will be an 82-game slog where boredom sets in before another shot at the postseason emerges. Like all great rivalries, Anaheims fans might just settle for their favorite team knocking the Kings down a notch no matter what else happens. Aleksander Barkov Panthers Jersey
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. Viewers in the Canadiens region can watch the game on TSN at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt and listen on TSN 690. The Canadiens have won three in a row and four of their last five games and recently put the finishing touches on a 3-1-0 road trip.SOCHI, Russia -- Pavel Datsyuk took a significant step toward playing in Russias Olympic opener by participating in practice. Datsyuk, who missed his teams first practice while nursing a lower-body injury, took line rushes between Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov. Alexander Svitov had been holding a place for him. Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov said through an interpreter Monday he didnt think the injury was serious enough tto keep Datsyuk from playing Thursday against Slovenia.dddddddddddd The 35-year-old star centre missed over a month with the injury, returning to play less than 15 minutes each in two games for the Detroit Red Wings prior to the Olympic break. Detroit general manager Ken Holland said he understood Datsyuks desire to play in this tournament, adding that he hopes his player and the Russians make the right decisions about his health. Wholesale NFL Jerseys
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