|(Insert shark metaphor here.)
Anaheim has only 10 wins this season, but three of them have come against the San Jose Sharks, including a 3-2 win in San Jose on the day after Christmas. For whatever reason, those Sharks have brought out the best in Anaheim this season.
"It's a team like LA that we don't like to lose to," said Nick Bonino, who was drafted by the Sharks, but came to Anaheim in a trade deadline deal in 2009. "So far we've won every one and tonight is going to be just as hard, if not harder, than the last. You kind of know their tendencies and they know ours. They don't want to lose to the Ducks four in a row. They're definitely going to come out wanting to beat us."
Anaheim has for the most part pulled off those previous three wins without second-line winger Blake, who was knocked out of the 1-0 win on October 14 when defenseman Brent Burns stepped on his arm, causing ligament damage above the left wrist. After missing 35 games, Blake confirmed this morning what was already assumed -- he'll be back in there tonight.
"It feels good, it feels strong," he said following the morning skate. "I guess you'll never know until you get into a game. You look back three months ago, this is the team is happened against, so it's kind of ironic.
"It's nice to get back and play hockey and obviously being around the guys. That's what you miss most. We have such a good group of guys here, you just want to get int there and contribute and play well."
Bruce Boudreau was asked if Blake's presence will add a much-needed "boost" to the Ducks tonight and he laughed when he replied, "That's the oldest line in pro sports, I know that." But, he continued, "he'll give us a boost. You know Jason, he's full of energy. He'll play hard. He always does."
Blake will presumably return to his second line spot with Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, with whom he's skated the last couple of days. Boudreau said he'll try to limit his minutes, but will let the flow of the game dictate just how much. "We'd like to not have to play him more than 14 or 15 minutes, but we'll see how the game goes," he said. "The one things about Jason is he's always in tremendous shape. If he's feeling great and playing great, I'm not going to hold to that. I'll let him go as long as he can."
Blake has had to watch the Ducks' struggles mostly from afar, but seems so happy just to get back on the ice, he's keeping a good perspective.
"We've got a lot of hockey left and strange things can happen," he said. "The biggest thing for the Ducks is to worry about the Ducks and not anything else. Don't look at the standings and just play. You've got to win hockey games. The onus is on the players. We have to make sure we're ready to play. You can draw the Xs and Os all you want, but you've got to go out there and perform. It's a new year, and it starts tonight."
The Sharks, by the way, were still in third in the Western Conference after that defeat to Anaheim on December 26. They go into tonight's game ninth in the West, despite an overtime loss and a shootout win (both to Vancouver) since then. Of course, they're only one point short of LA in the Pacific Division race and third in the conference. (Only in the Western Conference could a team have points in eight of its last nine games and still be in ninth.)
Jonas Hiller will be in net tonight for the Sharks, a team he has played well against lately with a 5-0-0 record, a 1.71 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last six appearances against them. The Sharks will be with Antti Niemi.
The rest of the line combos appear to look this way:
The 21-year-old Palmieri remains tied for the AHL lead in goals with 19, despite playing seven games with the Ducks this year (1 goal, 1 assist). He was reassigned to Syracuse last week.
The AHL All-Star game is Jan. 30 at Atlantic City, N.J., and you can vote Palmieri into the Eastern Conference starting lineup by visiting theahl.com or facebook.com/theahl and completing the official Reebok AHL All-Star Fan Ballot. You'll be entered to win a grand prize of a team-signed authentic 2012 AHL All-Star jersey. Five more winners will each receive a pair of tickets to the 2012 AHL All-Star Skills Competition and All-Star Game.
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And finally, who doesn't like a little slice of Selanne?
|Blake back in black.
Jason Blake, who has missed 34 games with tendon damage above his left wrist, has deemed himself "ready to go" as soon as tomorrow night's game with the San Jose Sharks. "It’s the coach’s decision. I think I’m ready to go," said Blake, who has been back practicing with the Ducks for the last week and a half, including full contact. "It feels pretty good. You’re not going to know how you feel until you get into a game. I hopefully will play tomorrow night. I’m definitely looking forward to it.
"It’s been a tough, long road that I had to go down. It’s been an uphill climb. I feel like I finally got to the top of the hill and I’m hopefully back and will be able to play."
Bruce Boudreau didn't indicate yet whether Blake would be in there tomorrow night, but did say, "We don't really know what we're gonna see tomorrow. I know he'll have a lot of energy and we'll see how long that lasts. It's tough to come back. It's almost like training camp revisited for him. It will be interesting to see."
Teemu Selanne was a linemate of Blake's with Saku Koivu before the injury, but won't necessarily be with him when Blake returns. "I'm so happy for Blake. It's a tough injury, and he's worked extremely hard to come back. It's nice to see the 'bunny' out there. He brings a lot of energy and spark and speed. I'm very happy."
If Blake is cleared to play tomorrow, it will be against the same Sharks team in the same arena as when the horrific injury occurred. That came last October 14, when Blake went down to the ice in a fight for the puck, and San Jose defenseman Brent Burns inadvertantly stepped on his arm, causing a deep gash just above the wrist.
So much has changed with the Ducks since the time of the injury. The Ducks ultimately won that game and the next two (including a rematch with the Sharks in San Jose) to start the season a promising 4-1-0. It's a little more of a coincidence that they've struggled without Blake, as he brings constant energy and a veteran presence to an all-important second scoring line. Without him, the Ducks have had to do some shuffling to find the right fit for their forward combinations.
"I look back at the last three months of watching a lot of hockey, not only our team, but every team. I look at our team and the talent we have, it is tough," Blake said. "You’re not in the position you want to be in. It’s a new year. We haven’t lost in this year yet. We want to keep moving forward and try to put some wins together.
Like the rest of the Ducks, Blake is trying to find optimism in this new year.
"There are a lot of games left. I think right now it’s just about us and what we need to do, what we have to do. We can’t afford to be losing in bunches. We have to start winning some hockey games. It’s a big game tomorrow night. San Jose is a great hockey club. We have to be ready."
Without a doubt, Blake will be ready after an agonizing last three months. His return, if it does come tomorrow night, is actually a little ahead of the three full months he was supposed to miss.
"I have been skating for five or six weeks now. Basically, conditioning every day," he said. "That’s about all I could do. It wasn’t fun. At the end of the day, you just hope it paid off. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. I’m just going to go out and try to do my best, work hard and take short shifts. It’s not going to be like you feel like you’re in midseason form by any means. I’m just going to take it shift by shift. That is all I can do. We’ll see how it goes. I'm ready to play."
- - -
Also on the injury front, defenseman Matt Smaby, who has missed all of this season with a torn ligament in his thumb, appears poised to return and has been practicing with the Ducks. "I’m just happy to see him back here," Boudreau said of the former Tampa Bay Lightning...member ...signed by the Ducks last summer. "I don’t know his progress or the plans for him right now. He’s here. Let’s skate him and get him in game shape.
Boudreau said that (s)maybe (sorry, couldn't resist) he'll be going to Syracuse on a conditioning assigment. "He hasn’t played and missed camp," Boudreau said. "The sure bet would be that he’d have to go down on a conditioning basis and play some games, I would think. That would be the first thing I would think would happen, unless it was such an emergency situation where you had to stick him in. Let’s see where he is after the fifth day of this.
Here's Boudreau from today and keeping things positive for his Ducks: "You have to make short-term goals. I know the cliché is one game at a time. I like to look at it one week at a time. You try to win the week. If you win the week, after a couple of weeks then you look start looking at the standings.
"Right now, we’re about it’s a new year. Let’s start everybody at zero and let’s see how we do in the new year. Let’s look up at the end of January where we are. If we are closer, then let’s look up at the end of February. Then, all the sudden if things go our way, everything gets shorter and it’s less time to sit there. It’s not as daunting, is what I guess I’m getting at.
"If you look down and go ‘Geez, you have to win 36 out of 44 games. That is a pretty daunting task.’ But if you just sit there and say ‘Let’s let one and then win two.’ Then, all the sudden you don’t have to win as many. I can only go by experience and that is the way we’ve done it in the past and it’s been successful. It has to start with one, then you have to win two in a row and go from there.
And on whether he even looks at the standings these days: "I definitely try not to right now. I know where we are. I don’t have to look at where other teams are. If we win three or four in a row, then I’ll start looking. That’s just me. I’m ridiculous that way."
Caputi (aside from having one of the more fun names to say in hockey) is a big 23-year-old who has played all of this season with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Last season, he spent some time with the big club, getting in seven games with the Leafs and going scoreless. He debuted three seasons ago with Pittsburgh, and played 23 games with the Pens and Leafs in 2009-10, scoring eight points. He has a respectable 100 points in 154 career AHL games between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Toronto, including 44 goals.
Deschamps was a former second round pick of the Ducks in 2008, who had seven points in 31 games with Syracuse this season.
Interestingly enough, Deschamps and Caputi will switch locker rooms when Syracuse plays at Toronto tonight.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere carrying an upstart Mighty Ducks team all the way to Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup championship before that improbable run came to a heartbreaking end in New Jersey. A heavily bearded and downtrodden Giguere accepting the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP, just the fifth player from a losing team to win it.
Giguere backstopping the Ducks through a magical 2007 Stanley Cup run, despite missing the start of that postseason when his first son Maxime was born with an eye condition. That Stanley Cup Final Game 5 in Anaheim, the seconds winding down to zero as a young Ryan Getzlaf and then Corey Perry leap into Giguere’s arms, soon joined by Scott Niedermayer and the rest of that Ducks team to celebrate a glorious Cup championship. And there's the majestic photo to the right, Giguere skating with Maxime in his arms on ice sprinkled with black, gold and orange confetti -- a man and his son seemingly alone, basking in the glory of reaching the ultimate goal in team sports.
More Giguere photos
But the last couple of years, the images we’ve seen of the man we call “Jiggy” have been in something that was once unthinkable: a different uniform. Two seasons ago, with Jonas Hiller’s emergence relegating Giguere to mostly a backup role in Anaheim, he was traded to Toronto on January 31, 2010 for Jason Blake and goalie Vesa Toskala.
Giguere spent the rest of that season and another in Toronto, battling through injuries for much of that time. Over the summer, he had surgery on a sports hernia and was signed by the Colorado Avalanche. Tomorrow night, when the Avs come to Honda Center to face the Ducks, it will be Giguere’s first time back in Anaheim since the trade.
“I’m very excited to go back,” Giguere said during a cheerful conference call with media this morning. “It’s been almost two years since I played a game there in Anaheim, and I never really got a chance to say thank you to people who meant a lot to me there. I got traded when I was on the road, and it was a quick exit.
"It’s nice to be able to go where I feel is my second home and where my kids were born. It’s a special place for me and a place where I’ve had the most success in my career. I’m just real thrilled to go back. This game has been on my mind all year.”
Giguere will be honored during the first TV timeout tomorrow night, a game with a special New Year's Eve start time of 5:05 p.m. (tickets are still available.). The video board will show a montage of his greatest moments as a Duck, and the home crowd will no doubt stand and cheer the man who holds all of the major goaltending records in franchise history and made 13,820 saves in a Ducks uniform. Most of all, they’ll be cheering for the memories he gave us.
“I’m hoping the reaction is going to be good,” said Giguere modestly. “I think people have always respected me there and I’ve always tried to present myself professionally, so I’m hoping for a good reaction. Hopefully it’s going to be a good night.”
|My other all-time favorite Giguere photo (mostly because of the anthem lyrics), taken during the '07 Stanley Cup Final. My dad has this framed in his den.
Giguere was brought to Colorado as a backup to young Semyon Varlamov, but he has logged significant time in net this season – 15 games to Varlamov’s 26 -- while posting strong numbers in net.
“I think the situation has been perfect for me here,” said the 34-year-old Giguere. “I knew at this point I wasn’t going to get a No. 1 job somewhere, so the next best case scenario was to go somewhere with a young guy that I can help out and push him. It becomes a competition for ice time, but at the same time that’s how you make yourself better. I can show him some tricks of the trade, be a good teammate to him.
“Obviously Denver is a great city to live in and raise kids, and that was part of the decision too. I was excited when they called and I haven’t regretted it, that’s for sure.”
Having been traded three times in his NHL lifetime, Giguere knows full well the harsh realities of the business of pro sports, something he acknowledged today. “I always tried to be a good teammate, a guy that’s positive around the room,” he said. “I just wanted to be remembered as a good guy, a nice person. You know these guys a long time and they become your friends, and then from one minute to the next, you’re saying goodbye. But trades are part of the business. You say your goodbyes and go to work again.”
“It’s something you have to face sometimes as a professional athlete that’s not always fun. You’d like to stay in one place your whole career, but there are only a handful of players who get to do that for their career. As much as I loved my time in Anaheim, I feel like it was a good trade for me at the time.”
So, there are certainly no hard feelings from either side when Giguere makes his return tonight. He says he’ll have a pregame meal with Francois Beauchemin (a former teammate in both Anaheim and Toronto) at the team's old favorite spot in Tustin. “And I’ll obviously get to see the guys before the game, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Before Giguere got off the phone this afternoon, he was asked what he thought his legacy was in Anaheim. He had difficulty answering, and paused before finally saying, “Winning the Cup and going to the Finals in 2003, those were things that don’t happen all the time, and I obviously didn’t do that on my own. A bunch of guys contribute to that. Those are the things I’m most proud of, what we did as a team, as a group. No one can take that away from us.”
They can’t take away the memories either, and we’ll all be pleasantly reminded of them when we see Jiggy one more time tomorrow night.
The Ducks go into that game coming off a disappointing 5-2 loss last night to a very good Vancouver team. It's a tough one to take, especially after the Ducks looked so good in taking down the Sharks in their building on Monday night. But the Ducks had a few too many giveaways, and Vancouver is too good a team not to take advantage.
"The one thing we said is we can’t give them easy plays and we can’t beat ourselves," said Bruce Boudreau. "You could look at all five goals as being based on turnovers. You can’t turn the puck over against a team that is that offensively gifted."
There is not a whole lot more to say about the game than what is in the recap, which you can read here.
|Respect your elder, Edler.
Three days hence that gratifying win over the Sharks in San Jose, the Ducks will look to experience a similar feeling against another perennial West power tonight at Honda Center. The Vancouver Canucks have taken residence in their traditional spot near the top of the Western Conference standings, having won five of their last six to secure a stronghold on the 2 slot.
"We're going to try our butts off from now till the end of the year, but we've got to put a run together pretty soon," said Bruce Boudreau this morning. "You have to put a streak together. Quite frankly, there's no better way to start than playing the best teams in the league."
Coincidentally, the Canucks -- like Anaheim -- are coming off a 3-2 win in San Jose, although their win came last night on an overtime winner by former Duck Andrew Ebbett. Roberto Luongo had 33 saves in that game, but he'll get the night off tonight as the Canucks are reportedly going with super-backup Cory Schneider (whose save percentage and goals-against average are actually better than Bobby Lu's).
The Ducks took their previous matchup with the Ducks, a 4-3 game at Honda Center in which the score didn't come close to telling the story. If you'll recall, Anaheim went into the third period that night leading 4-0 and gave up three unanswered to the Canucks before hanging on. Jonas Hiller, who figures to get the start tonight, had 38 saves in that game.
As in that game, the key for the Ducks tonight is the same thing parents tell their children in the days leading up to Christmas: Stay out of the box. Vancouver boasts the NHL's top-ranked power play at a gaudy 25.0 percent. "When they get out there, they feel they can score every time," Boudreau said. "When you have that combination and that kind of confidence, you can come into buildings and dictate the way you want to play. They've got that confidence right now.
"They're so hard to defend because they're so 'non-readable. I don't know if that's even proper English,but they've got so much movement and skill, when you try and cover one thing, something else opens. Being disciplined and being smart is something we'll definitely have to be."
With tonight being the first of six straight at home, the Ducks know this is a crucial time to try and get a streak going.
"They're obviously a good team and they play very structured," Andrew Cogliano said. "I think it's going to bring the best out of ius. Last time we played them, we had a good game against them. You have no choice but to play hard and be ready. Our goal is to match their intensity and match their skill, and I think we'll do that."
Saku Koivu will likely not return tonight, as he's still batting a strained groin and Boudreau declared him "doubtful."
|Helmets allow aggressive pats on the head.|
Any why not? Monday night's 3-2 victory, in one of the tougher buildings to pull a win from, was among the finest performances of this frustrating Ducks season. And it has a lot of Ducks talking about rolling it into a good "second half" (even though at 35 games played, we're still not to the halfway point of the campaign yet).
"It was a big game for us," Andrew Cogliano, who had a big goal in that game, said today. "It’s a tough building to play in and San Jose is a tough team. It just gets the ball rolling for the second half of the year. We’re looking to win games and put a bunch together hopefully. That was a good way to start and now play another good team in Vancouver."
Indeed, if the Ducks want to make a habit of winning games -- and doing it against the class of the Western Conference -- they'll have to keep it going tomorrow night against the Canucks. It's the start of a six-game homestand for Anaheim, but they're only thinking about the first one.
"The goal is to take one game at a time," said Cogliano, whose play on the third line was praised by Bruce Boudreau today. "Hopefully, we can get a win and build on it from there. You feel good about yourself and playing. I think that started in the last game playing against San Jose, which was good for us. Hopefully, you can go on a little run. There is no better place to have six games at home to start.
Boudreau, too, was all for discussing that encouraging win in SJ this afternoon. "I was really excited about it the last few days because I thought we played really well," he said. "I came away from that thinking we played hard and as well as them. They had a flurry of shots in the last six minutes because they had two power plays and they were desperate. They routinely outshoot every team.
"I was impressed with the way we hung in. We played the way we wanted to play and didn’t give up a lot of Grade ‘A’ scoring chances the first two periods ... We bent a little bit, but we never broke. We got that third goal and hung tough in the third period. That was a good sign. That is probably the reason I am so excited about tomorrow’s game because it’s another great test for us."
Boudreau was also intent to compliment the play of Matt Beleskey, a guy who survived being put on waivers by the Ducks just before Boudreau took over, but has come back to make a huge contribution lately. He's been playing much of the time on the third unit with Cogliano and Andrew Gordon/Kyle Palmieri.
"The last few games from the first few games that I was here, he’s playing hard and competing harder," Boudreau said of Beleskey. "When you compete harder, you get opportunities. He’s getting opportunities to score, creating chances, he’s doing a good job of checking and he’s getting involved. He’s gotten in two fights I think in the last five or six games. When you get involved and engaged in the game, then opportunities come.
"He’s gotten points, been on the ice for goals for and not too many against. The biggest difference is Matt. When Matt is not sitting around watching the play, he’s being proactive on it."
The Ducks practiced for the second straight day former second-line mainstays Saku Koivu and Jason Blake on the ice. Koivu (groin), of course, is much closer to returning than Blake (lacerated arm), but Bourdreau was uncertain on whether that return would come tomorrow night. "It’s up to him. I don’t want to be coy, but it’s day-to-day," he said. "I certainly like him to be able to play. We’ll see how he feels. Probably a better indication will be to see how he feels tomorrow after today."
Blake talked to reporters yesterday after skating with the team for the first time since getting cut just above the left wrist in the third game of the season (a win over SJ at Honda Center). He has been skating on his own for the last several weeks, but only started handling and shooting the puck in the past few days.
“Overall, it felt good,” Blake said. “It’s just nice to be out there and be a part of the team again. It was good."
Blake was originally supposed to be out three months, which would have his return scheduled for the middle of next month.
“Right now it’s about getting in game shape," he said. "I have to practice with the guys here for a few days and re-evaluate it, see where I’m at. I’ve got to start strengthening my arm. I’ve been doing a lot with the wrist, but I have to strengthen my triceps and biceps.”
|"Holiday group hug, everybody."
For the first time in nearly two months the Ducks won a game on the road, an encouraging 3-2 triumph over the Sharks. And it came in the unlikeliest of buildings, the loud and unfriendly HP Pavilion, where the Sharks are again strong this year with a 12-6-1 mark that is among the best home records in the Western Conference.
"To win in this building is quite a feat," said Bobby Ryan, whose breakaway goal in the second was huge for Anaheim (more on that later). "It was nice to get one on the road. It's long overdue."
Indeed it was. The Ducks had gone 0-9-4 away from Anaheim since an October 27 win at Minnesota. At the time, few of us could have had any idea they would go on to have the struggles they've endured over the past two months. "To only have two road wins and the last one coming on Oct. 27 was a little embarrassing," Cogliano said. "That's not the ideal situation."
The Ducks have only 10 wins overall, but remarkably three of them have come against the rival Sharks, who have taken their usual spot near the top of the West, third as of this morning. Two of those wins came during a four-day span -- first in Anaheim and then in SJ -- part of that four-game winning streak the Ducks enjoyed at the beginning of the campaign.
Last night the Ducks did it with timely scoring and a nice 36-save performance by Jonas Hiller. Luca Sbisa gave the Ducks their first lead with a rocketed slap shot (off a nice assist from George Parros) just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. After the Sharks tied it later in the period, Ryan gave the Ducks the lead back with a beautiful steal of a Joe Thornton pass that led to this breakaway snipe that beat Antti Niemi.
And after the Sharks tied it again, Cogliano came through with the eventual game-winner later in the second, wristing a shot inside the far post that Niemi probably would like to have back. That was enough for Hiller, who stopped all 18 San Jose shots in the third period. Also in that third period, a fan threw a dead duck on the HP Pavilion ice, a contrast to a Ducks team that was very much alive at the time. When asked about it after practice today, Bruce Boudreau said, "I'm gonna be honest, I just now got that....A dead duck, we're the Ducks."
And those Ducks, for the first time in ages, were get back on a plane to Orange County feeling pretty good about themselves.
“It’s been a long time," Ryan said. "Obviously it’s frustrating. We had some road trips that we just fell apart on. Had leads and blew. It’s tough when you don’t feel good about yourself going into every building. Hopefully this is a jump start and something moving forward.”
It's going to have to be, as the Ducks need to roll this win into a lot more. They still sit in 14th in the West with a 10-19-6 record through 35 games.
“We all have dreams, right?” said Boudreau before the game yesterday. “You go out every game and you hope that you can win every game. That’s it. I go through the schedule and say, ‘OK, we need a good 10-game win streak or a 13-game winning streak. It’s easier said than done.
“Everything is possible.”
Boudreau, who has shown in his relatively short time here a propensity for other-sport references, did it again when he talked about what he's told his team. “I said, ‘Listen, if this was golf, we shot a 62 on the front nine. But who says we can’t shoot a 36 on the back,’” he said. ”That’s the way you have to look at it and if you look at it any other way, then all of a sudden you’re beaten before you start.
“So that’s the way I’m hoping that they look at it. It’s the way I’m looking at it anyway. Let’s hope the best happens.”
He is expected to miss four to six weeks and it has yet to be decided whether he will come back to Anaheim or stay with Team Canada.
|There's gotta be a puck in there somewhere.
Anaheim's struggles in 2011-12 are well-documented in this space, while the Kings are 11th in the Western Conference, having dropped six of their last eight (including an 8-2 loss in Detroit last Saturday night) and are last in the league in goal-scoring.
Two days ago they hired former Flames, Sharks and Blackhawks coach Darryl Sutter to replace Terry Murray (fired last Saturday). Sutter had his first practice with LA yesterday and makes his debut against the Ducks tonight at Staples Center.
“I gotta believe they’ll play their best game of the year,” said Bruce Boudreau yesterday, as he goes into his 10th game as Ducks head man. (Sutter and Boudreau, by the way, are among six new coaches hired in the league already this season.) “When they get a new coach, especially one with the reputation of being a tough taskmaster and an intimidator like Darryl is, they’ll put their best foot forward.”
Of course, the Ducks couldn't care less who is wearing the suit on the opponent's bench -- they're desperately looking for a road win. Anaheim hasn't won on the road since October 27 at Minnesota, and although this "road game" is only an hour up the road, it's one the Ducks desperately need.
“The one thing any athlete doesn’t want to be known as is a homer," Boudreau said. "They want to be known as guys who can play on the road. That’s something we have to change. We’re trying to find ways.”
The Ducks had one of their bigger wins of the year the last time they played the Kings, a 3-2 victory at Honda Center on December 6 (Boudreau's first win as coach here). Bobby Ryan, if you'll recall, had two goals in that game, including the eventual winner with just 48.8 seconds left.
The game at Honda Center, and another win there December 14 vs. Phoenix, have been two of the better games Anaheim has played all season. But that recent 0-for-3 trip through Chicago, Winnipeg and Dallas looked like a different team.
“It seems like we’re waiting for something bad to happen,” Boudreau said. “You know, you get into a 3-3 tie in your last time on the trip (in Dallas), you think you’d come out and just go all out. It looked like we were so tentative that we were either afraid to make a mistake or we were waiting for Dallas to score before we started to play.”
“You can’t play tentative,” Boudreau said. “You can’t play…it’s like prevent defense. You’ve gotta play to win. We have to find something to turn it around. There’s an awful lot of road games left in this season."
As has been the case the last five games, Saku Koivu will again be out with a groin strain, and Boudreau said he hopes to have him back before the New Year. Meanwhile, the Kings get a boost with the return of Mike Richards, who has missed the last eight games with a head injury. Richards, the big pickup from Philadelphia (how fun are they to watch on the 24/7 show?) over the summer, has 20 points in 25 games this season.
"Everyone is going to be up for it," said Nick Bonino, who got his first goal of the year in Dallas on Monday. "There's not gonna be one guy not ready to play. They're our biggest rival, last game before the break. [We gotta give] everything we have."
By the way, I'll be at Staples Center again tonight doing a live game log during the game, and game recap after, if anyone is interested.
On a personal note, tonight's game will be followed by a drive with my dad, from LA to somewhere a couple hours up the road to get some sleep. Then tomorrow morning we continue the trip to Davis, to visit my sister and her family for Christmas. (Ugh, the holidays.)
The one group of people who cared very little about the Ducks' recent woes were the patients the team spent time with during their annual holiday visit to CHOC Children's hospital in Orange. The Ducks handed out Wild Wingers Kids Club kits that had been donated by fans, along with autographed items and -- most importantly -- just spent time with the kids being treated on the hospital's Oncology Floor.
Here are a few of the cooler photos from the afternoon, including Teemu Selanne, Francois Beauchemin and Jonas Hiller playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with a four-year-old patient. I also like the one of them checking out the greatest photo ever taken, which decorates the hallway of the Ducks-themed wing of the Oncology Floor. Click here to see all the photos.
|Cannnn ... you feel .... the love ... tonight?
Selanne had felt the affection of the Winnipeg fans from the moment the Ducks bus arrived at 2:30 in the morning on Saturday, and it continued when he hit the ice for warmups and every time he touched the puck during the game. During the first stoppage in play at MTS Centre, a long Selanne tribute was shown on the video board followed by an emotional ovation from the soldout crowd. Selanne, looking up to watch the video himself from the bench, could only muster a straight-faced wave while holding his mouthpiece between his teeth. Of all the well-deserved praise that has been laid on the always fan-friendly Selanne over his magical career, that muted gesture tells you just as much about him as a player.
After all, his Ducks had gone down 2-0 early to the Jets, and Selanne (unlike the thousands of fans saluting him) was not happy. More than taking the time to reflect, Selanne's focus laid mainly on getting back into that game. The Ducks ultimately did just that, thanks to the work of Selanne himself. His beautifully dumped-in pass bounced right in front of the Winnipeg net to the stick of Niklas Hagman, who punched it through to pull the Ducks within one and bring a smile back to Selanne's face. Corey Perry tied the game with a minute and a half left in the first on an equally great Ryan Getzlaf pass, but two Jets goals in the second and another one early in the third put Anaheim in a hole it couldn't escape.
Selanne earned another assist on a Perry goal midway through the third, but by then it was too late. Afterward, when he was inevitably named the Third Star of the game, the classy Selanne found the strength to acknowledge those fans one more time. He blew kisses and waved as he skated around the ice and finally toward the locker room, his face reflecting a man that had once again worked his tail off but still endured a frustrating defeat.
"Obviously, it was unbelievable," said Selanne once again using his favorite word (and one we typically use when describing him). "Like I said before, I didn't really know what to expect. But these fans showed again that how much they appreciate a hockey player in this town."It was something that I could never imagine. It was so special."
Yet Selanne remained focused on a second straight defeat to start this road trip, repeating the line, "It seems to me that every time when we do mistakes, it’s in our own net. Tonight was the same story again. It has been a very frustrating year.”
So Selanne ended up leaving Winnipeg (possibly for the last time) with plenty of affection, but not with what he really wanted -- a much-needed Ducks victory. Now he and his teammates will look for that tonight in Dallas, where the Ducks and eighth-place Stars are the featured game on Versus (5 p.m. Pacific).
The Ducks figure to have Jonas Hiller in net after he got the night off in Winnipeg, and the Stars will counter with rookie Richard Bachman. He's won three of his first four starts in the absence of Kari Lehtonen (groin strain), taking his first defeat while giving up six goals Friday night vs. New Jersey (the same night Scott Niedermayer got his number retired). The Ducks' own groin strain, that suffered by Saku Koivu, will keep him out for tonight's game, as he still hasn't joined the Ducks on this road trip. Koivu is looking to possibly return Thursday at LA.
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To get you in the spirit, take a look at the holiday card the Ducks put together, starring George Parros, Corey Perry and Corey Perry's chewing gum:
|Trying to render Kane unable.
Last spring, after the Ducks picked up Emery and Dan Ellis -- and needed them in the wake of Jonas Hiller's vertigo issues -- Emery went 7-2-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average and helped the Ducks springboard to a fourth-place finish in the West. In the offseason, with Hiller fully recovered and Ellis a sturdy backup, Emery was not re-signed by Anaheim, ultimately opting for a training camp tryout with the Blackhawks.
He not only made the roster, but after getting spot work behind starter Corey Crawford, Emery has earned the No. 1 netminder tag lately and has won his last four starts. Tonight, the Ducks will look to break that streak -- and start one of their own -- as they kick off a five-game road trip at the United Center.
Anaheim, which had an emphatic win over Phoenix last Sunday at Honda Center, will look for its first two-game winning streak since October, when it won four in a row. They'll have to do it without Saku Koivu, whose lower-body injury has now been revealed to be a groin strain, and he is "questionable" for the next three games. He did not accompany the team to Chicago.
The Blackhawks have won three straight, the last of which came in Minnesota the same night the Ducks took down the Coyotes, clinched on a terrific Patrick Kane shootout goal. If you weren't watching SportsCenter that night, Kane skated in on Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, slowed to a crawl, deked about 127 times and forecfully whipped the puck into wide open net while Backstrom looked helpless. Take a look:
“I tried it a few times in practice. We were in a good position to win so I thought I’d try it,” Kane said. “It’s always nice to change it up, try some new moves. You see guys slow down and go real slow before; I probably took it to another level there with slow.”
The Ducks have already been bitten once this year on Kane's prowess in the shootout, as he and Jonathan Toews converted in a 3-2 win in Chicago on October 25. Anaheim fell 6-5 in the annual day-after-Thanksgiving matinee with the Hawks at Honda Center on Nov. 25.
Just to violate the "one game at a time" mantra for a second, after tonight the Ducks move to Winnipeg for Teemu Selanne's highly anticipated return to that city tomorrow night. The love for Selanne in that city, where he played for the old Jets from 1992 through 1996, is incalculable. And Selanne acknowledged his excitement about returning there in this story from Eric Stephens in the OC Register. Selanne said he "never got the chance to say goodbye" after being traded by the Jets to the Ducks in Feburary 1996, not long before the franchise moved to Phoenix.
"The atmosphere I hear is just unbelievable," Selanne said. "I can't wait to go."
Ducks fans can only hope he leaves town with a victory, and if it's a third straight for Anaheim, that wouldn't be so bad either.
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Tonight in New Jersey, Scott Niedermayer will have his number retired at Prudential Center (although he only played there twice, both with the Ducks), just before the Devils take on the Dallas Stars. Niedermayer's 27 will join Scott Stevens' No. 4 and Ken Daneyko's No. 3, both of whom were Niedermayer teammates in his 13 years with the Devils.
Dan Rosen of NHL.com has a nice story on Niedermayer getting honored, which includes this amusing story from early in Niedermayer's career, when coach Jacques Lemaire put the team through a rigorous skate:
"I'll never forget in the third year of his career, we were going through a bad stretch and Jacques put us through one of those so-called bag skates," Daneyko said. "Everybody was coming off and just falling in the room. All our undergear was totally soaked, like we took a shower in our equipment. And then Nieder comes in, and he's got maybe a tear-drop of sweat in the middle of his chest and everything else is dry. I'm thinking to myself, 'Was it that effortless for him?' Everybody's skates were going a half-inch into the ice and it was like he was floating above it.
"Boy, that (ticked) me off," Daneyko added while laughing. "It looked like he went for a Sunday walk in the park."
I happened to run into Scotty at the opening of the Anaheim Ducks Breakaway Bar & Grill at John Wayne Airport on Tuesday. I (sort of) kiddingly asked him if he might be willing to come back. He said with a laugh, "You don't want me right now."
The 38-year-old Niedermayer, despite some grey sneaking into his dark hair, looks to be in tremendous shape. I told him I figured it would only take him two weeks to get back to hockey condition. "Maybe 10 years ago," he said.
"Well, I'd kick myself if I didn't at least ask," I said as we parted ways.
"Hey," he said with a laugh. "It's nice to be wanted."
|Hagman, Pelley, Palmieri and Boudreau lead Ducks to victory. All guys who were somewhere else as recently as a month ago.
(Think about that one for a moment.)
But such has been the way of the 2011-12 season so far for the Ducks, where so much has not gone as could have been expected in the fall. That was never more on display than last night at Honda Center, where the Ducks cruised to a rather satisfying 4-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes to snap a two-game losing skid and a four-game streak vs. Phoenix.
Hagman (claimed off waivers a month ago today) had two goals, Pelley (acquired via trade with New Jersey two days ago) scored one and Palmieri (recalled from Syracuse last week) added another in the third. In fact, of the 20 guys in the lineup last lineup, the three with the fewest games played as a Duck -- just 25 combined between the trio -- scored all the team's goals.
But while those guys may have been the ones to find the net, it was the work of the entire Ducks team -- both new and old -- that contributed to that victory. Said Boudreau after the game, "This was the hardest I’ve seen a team work this year that I’ve been coaching, and that includes the Capitals.”
That intensity was evident from start to finish in a game the Ducks never trailed. They went up 2-0, something they've now done in all four home games of the Boudreau era. But unlike in those games, there was little looking back for Anaheim last night. When the Coyotes did get close (a Martin Hanzal goal in the second that belied a monster power play drought for Phoenix), the Ducks countered with more offense and a lockdown D that only allowed 20 Phoenix shots the entire evening.
One of the highlights of that defensive effort came from a not-so-new Duck, Lubomir Visnovsky. But heck, Lubo had only played 16 of the 29 games this year after missing a month with a broken finger. In the third period, he saved a sure goal when he slipped in behind Jonas Hiller and batted away a mid-air puck that had fluttered past Hiller and was heading for the twine. The play deservedly made Sportscenter's Top 10 of the night.
How's this for a quote from Visnovsky? "I don't play for month and it's like pressure because everybody, 'Lubo's back. Lubo's back.'"
On the offensive end, where Visnovsky is at his best, he had a team-leading seven shots on net, and several more attempted shots. That alone made his presence noticeable on a Ducks power play that scored once (Hagman) and got another in the third (Palmieri's tip of a Ryan shot) just as the man advantage expired.
That goal was more than the Ducks needed on this night, as Pelley led off the scoring with a hustle and muscle play that quickly endeared himself to Ducks fans. After Maxime Macenauer banked the puck off the left wing wall, Pelley rudely nudged his way past Adrian Aucoin, giving himself a mini breakaway that he finished off with a wrister under goalie Mike Smith.
After that, Hagman sandwiched that lone Hanzal goal (five this season, three vs. Anaheim) with his two. He looked poised to pull off the hat trick on a couple occasions in the third, as Corey Perry (clearing looking to make the hattie happen) gave Hagman a couple of nice feeds for one-timers that Smith robbed with big saves.
"It’s nice to see. If we can get him back to scoring the way he used to," Boudreau said. "Then it sure adds a dynamic that we haven’t had for awhile. He could have had four or five. Corey was putting them on his tape in the third period. But two is good."
Good indeed, and as this was our last chance to see the Ducks at home before they embark today on a five-game road trip that starts tomorrow night in Chicago, it was a nice way to send them off.
And after that game, as usual, Visnovsky said so much with so little.
"We played a full 60 minutes tonight," he said with that enthusiastic, baby-faced expression we've missed the last month. "Let's play the rest of the season like this."
Sounds good to me.