POSTED ON Thursday, 11.17.2011 / 11:02 AM
I've never been much of an "at least we got a point" kind of guy. But as disappointing as that shootout with the Kings ended up last night, you had to feel a little fortunate the Ducks came away with something from that night at Staples Center.
The Ducks, by their own admission, were not strong in the first half of that game, and didn't generate a ton offensively until the third period (outshot 29-12 through two). But thanks to the work of Jonas Hiller and the guys in front of him, they were able to keep it a 1-0 game until late in regulation. That's when they caught a break (after being on the wrong side of the breaks earlier in the period), when Justin Williams got his stick blade into Cam Fowler's skate blade and got whistled for the tripping minor. That opened the door for a power play in which the Ducks took quick advantage, Teemu Selanne firing from his familiar left wing circle spot, sneaking the puck past a previously perfect Jonathan Quick.
There was some thought that the puck nicked Corey Perry's shin before squeezing under Quick's arm, but the goal was credited to Selanne. More importantly, it was a Ducks goal, and it forced overtime at a late stage in the game.
For a team stuggling to find the net, even that which seemed like a goal wasn't a goal. Earlier in the third period, Selanne's shot from the right wing kicked off Quick to Ryan Getzlaf, who batted the puck in with his left glove. The goal was waved off on the ice, and replay reviews confirmed that Getzlaf missed touching the disc with his stick by no more than a few inches.
Thankfully for the Ducks, that disappointment didn't sway them from eventually getting the equalizer, ultimately giving way to overtime and a marathon shootout that the Kings took in the seventh round. Both Hiller and Quick were sharp in the tiebreaker, each giving up one conversion (Stoll for LAK; Getzlaf keeping things alive for ANA) before Williams wristed a shot over Hiller's shoulder in the top of the seventh inning. Randy Carlyle countered with defenseman Kurtis Foster, whose wrist shot was denied by Quick for the win.
That dropped the Ducks to 1-3 in the shootout, their only success coming in that second game of the year, against the Rangers in Stockholm. Those three defeats have come in a tough stretch in which the Ducks have won just twice in the last 13 games. Those are the types of numbers that wouldn't need to be thrown about if things had just gone a different way a couple times in that finicky tiebreaker format.
"It's tough to lose a point in that kind of fashion, but I thought the boys played a hard game," Bobby Ryan said. "We had so many chances and Quick was standing on his head, really sucking pucks in and not letting any rebounds or chances for us." Quick, by the way, is reportedly starting in goal again tonight. No word from the Ducks, but there is speculation from Eric Stephens of the OCR that Ellis will be in net.
Just like with "at least we got a point," I'm not a big believer in momentum in sports, especially when it's supposed to be carried from one game to another. That being said, the way the Ducks played in the second half of that game has to be a boost for them going into Game 2 of this Freeway Face-Off home and home, a highly anticipated rematch tonight at Honda Center.
"We got the point and we worked hard for it," Carlyle said. "It’s one shot away in the shootout from being a difference maker. Right now things aren’t going our way, but if we work as hard as we did in the last half of this hockey game, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel."
And that's the beauty of the way this schedule worked out. As much as the Ducks and their fans would like another shot at those Kings after last night, they won't have to wait long for it. It should be a fun one tonight in our building.
POSTED ON Wednesday, 11.16.2011 / 2:15 PM
If ever there was added motivation for the Ducks to return to their winning ways, it comes this week.
Starting tonight in Los Angeles, the Ducks will play back-to-back home-and-homes with the Kings in the renewal of the Freeway Face-Off rivalry. Then Sunday it's a rematch with another familiar foe, the Red Wings, who spoiled the end of that difficult Ducks road trip with a 5-0 victory in Detroit on November 5.
The Ducks (and their fans, for that matter) would love nothing more than to turn things around in those games, which could prove critical in determining how things go the rest of this important month. "The games are always spirited with LA," Randy Carlyle said this morning. "We need something good to happen with our group, but we're going to have to earn it. If we're not prepared to go to battle with the group they have up there in LA, we'll be embarrassed. We have to be ready."
The Kings have similar motivation in these next two games, as they haven't exactly been lighting up the world so far this season. They're 5-2 decision over Minnesota on Saturday night was just their second win in the last eight games. They're currently 10th in the West with 19 points (four more than Anaheim). The plights of both teams are a far stretch from where they were last time they battled on back-to-back nights, last April when the Ducks won both games to end the regular season and catapult into the fourth slot in the West.
It's an understatement that scoring first will be important tonight. The Ducks are 6-0-2 when they get the first goal, 0-8-1 when they don't.
Carlyle said this morning that both Bobby Ryan (who missed yesterday's practice with the flu) and Dan Ellis (who left practice early with groin issues) will be available tonight. Center Ben Maxwell, who the Ducks plucked off waivers last week, is also available after securing his work visa and getting into Orange County yesterday. But as Carlyle said yesterday, "It’s a little bit unfair to expect him to jump into your lineup off an airplane tonight.”
Niklas Hagman, whom the Ducks claimed off waivers yesterday, will not be in the lineup tonight and probably not tomorrow night back at Honda Center, as he too has to get his work visa. Hagman, like Maxwell, will have to fly to Canada and fill out the proper paperwork at a U.S. consulate.
Hagman, who has skated with the team the last two days, said yesterday, "I'm happy to be here. Obviously I need a little bit of a fresh start for my career. It's a good place to come. ... Hopefully I'll get my visa thing settled and I get to play."
Teemu Selanne, Hagman's teammate on a number of Finnish national teams, said of Hagman, "He’s an unbelievable skater. Fast. Strong like a bull. Brings a lot of energy. And you know what? He can score goals. He has really good skills and sometimes doesn’t get enough credit. I believe it’s just a confidence thing. He’s going to be a big help for us.”
That help will have to come later, as right now Hagman will be watching these two crucial games with the Kings like the rest of us. (I will, by the way, be at Staples Center tonight doing a live game log if anyone is interested.)
As far as the importance of these next two nights, this comment came from Cam Fowler came after the Ducks fell to Minnesota Sunday night, but it's worth repeating: "We should be going into those two games like Stanley Cup Game 7. It's a big rivalry. Playing those guys back-to-back, home-and-home, it could get us going in the right way or it could set us back again. We have to be ready."
POSTED ON Monday, 11.14.2011 / 11:26 AM
It can be a finicky game, this hockey. And the Ducks proved that during an up-and-down weekend.
Friday night Anaheim played two good periods against the Canucks and came away with a 4-3 win. Last night they played two good ones against the Wild, and lost 3-2. But it was the timing of those two good periods, not just the end result, that made those two games seem worlds apart.
Friday night, following a scoreless first, the Ducks raced out to a 4-0 lead (thanks in part to a game-changing elbowing major by Aaron Rome on Devante Smith-Pelly) and barely hung on for dear life through a three-goal third period by the Canucks.
Last night, a rough first period in which the Wild scored three unanswered left the Ducks in a hole they could never recover from, and Cam Fowler goals in the second and third periods were not quite enough. Fowler scored the second one (his second of the year) with less than a minute left in the third and the Anaheim net empty, but the Ducks couldn't repeat the feat over the last 52 1/2 seconds. (Meanwhile, the clang of the left goalpost is still ringing in our ears as two Teemu Selanne efforts to get the Ducks closer in the second chipped the red paint but didn't go in.)
After another tough loss, it was Fowler -- the 19-year-old with the poise of a man twice his age -- who encapsulated the sentiment surrounding this team and its tendency to get off to bad starts. "It’s up to us in here to figure out what is going on with the start of our games," a downtrodden Fowler said. "Especially with this big home stretch here, we should be excited to play and ready to go in the first period. It just seems like one bad bounce after the other. We just put ourselves so far behind. The next thing you know, the next two periods we have to claw out of it.
"On paper, you look at this team and we should be doing a lot better than we are. Paper only says so much. It’s up to us right now to rally around each other."
While the Ducks erupted for a four-goal second period Friday night against the conference champs, their season-long lack of goal-scoring was addressed this morning when they claimed veteran Niklas Hagman off re-entry waivers. The 31-year-old Hagman is a three-time 20-goal scorer who was off to a slow start in Calgary, with just a goal and three assists so far this year. But he's a proven scorer who had 27 goals with Dallas four seasons ago and 25 with Toronto and Calgary in 2009-10. Last year he had 11 goals in 71 games with the Flames.
Hagman was originally placed on waivers last Thursday, went unclaimed and ended up in Abbotsford of the AHL. When he was placed on re-entry waivers, the Ducks nabbed him, meaning they will take on a prorated half his salary and the Flames will pick up the other half.
Hagman is already familiar with a few Ducks, having played on a couple of Finnish Olympic teams with Selanne and Saku Koivu and on Swiss team HC Davos with Jonas Hiller during the lockout.
We'll have more on Hagman later today, including how soon he can join the team. To make room for him, the Ducks reassigned Peter Holland, who had his first NHL goal Friday night vs. Vancouver, eliciting one of the cooler quotes of the season. "I don’t think I could feel my legs when it went in the net," Holland said. "It was pretty cool. I kind of decided that I want to do that again. It was pretty special and something I will never forget. To score it on Luongo, one of the best goalies in the league, that adds to it as well."
Meanwhile, it was another Ducks youngster, Fowler, who vocalized how the Ducks need to approach their next two games -- back-to-back Freeway Face-Off battles with the Kings on Wednesday at Staples Center and Friday back home.
"We have to put some wins together now, and it starts on Wednesday," Fowler said. "We should be going into those two games like Stanley Cup Game 7. It’s a big rivalry. Playing those guys back-to-back in a home-and-home, it could get us going in the right way in a position direction or it could set us back again. We have to be ready."
POSTED ON Friday, 11.11.2011 / 1:29 PM
As friendly as the Ducks' upcoming schedule already is over the next three weeks -- with 10 of the next 12 in Anaheim -- it's a little more helpful when you consider the road their opponents face before coming into Honda Center. And that may help matters as the Ducks once again try to steer out of their skid.
For the second straight game, the Ducks are taking on a team playing the second of a back-to-back, having played the Kings in LA the night before. Of course, that didn't help matters Wednesday night when the Ducks fell to a Predators squad that had lost to LA the previous night. Though Nashville rested top goalie Pekka Rinne that night (his first night off of the season) and he was back in there to thwart the Ducks in a 4-2 victory.
Tonight the Canucks come in here less than 24 hours after beating the Kings 3-2 at Staples Center behind No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo, who will reportedly be in there again when the defending Western Conference champs take on Anaheim tonight. Luongo had a solid night in what has been a slightly off-kilter season for him in which he's sporting a 2.96 goals-against average and a .898 save percentagein 11 games. Backup Cory Schneider, who got some serious time in net when Luongo struggled in last year's postseason, has had better numbers in his six appearances. He was the only goalie on the ice (along with five skaters) at the Canucks' optional skate this morning, but then surprised reporters afterward by telling them he wasn't starting. Winger Alex Burrows, who has been out with back spasms, also skated this morning and will reportedly be a game-time decision.
The Ducks also had an optional skate this morning that saw the majority of the roster hit the ice for at least a little time in what was a casual atmosphere. Things were a lot more intense during a lengthy practice at Anaheim ICE yesterday, which was preceded by a nearly hour-long meeting that aimed to find answers.
Randy Carlyle was mostly vague about what was discussed, but offered, “You have to eliminate any confusion, any doubt before you can take the next step forward. If there’s any doubt on what we’re doing or what we should be doing in this situation or that situation that they’re presented with, then you try to deal with that right away. And that’s what you always do when you’re in those. You clarify, and try to focus again on moving forward.”
Teemu Selanne said a number of players made their voices heard in the meeting. “I think it’s important to get input from so many different guys, forwards, defensemen, centers, wingers, about the system. A lot of guys were talking and giving their opinions about how they feel about this and why it doesn’t work, really.
"A lot of times the coach is talking and nobody says a word and then you go on the ice and you think, Well, I don’t know if it’s working. So everybody has to buy into the system. It’s important that the players can give their input. It was good. It was really honest conversations ... a huge step forward.”
The Ducks can only hope that translates into a win tonight against a Canucks team that is averaging exactly three goals a game (dwarfing Anaheim's 1.87) and has the league's second best power play percentage. They're currently eighth in the West at 8-7-1.
A reminder, tonight's puck drop comes at 7:35 p.m. rather than the standard 7:05 p.m. start, a change that was made for TV purposes.
POSTED ON Thursday, 11.10.2011 / 10:32 AM
The first indication that it might not be their night unfortunately came very early for the Anaheim Ducks. A team that has given up an early first goal too many times during the swoon did it again to the Predators last night, and in ugly fashion.
Just 1:20 after the opening faceoff, before many in Honda Center had even found their seats, Nashville rookie Craig Smith made a seemingly innocuous toss on net from below the extended goal line. Ninety times out of 100 (heck 999 times out of 1,000) that puck remains harmless, but this time it kicked off Jonas Hiller's right skate blade and creeped over the stripe behind him, with Hiller looking back in disbelief.
“That’s something that can really take the wind out of your sails, especially when it happens to you early in a game,” Cam Fowler said later. “It’s up to us to battle through that adversity. You can tell on the bench that when those goals go in it kind of deflates us. But it’s up to us to rally around each other.”
As if one fluky goal wasn't enough, a few minutes later a Colin Wilson centering pass went off the stick blade of Saku Koivu and got past an outstretched Hiller, making it 2-0 very early. And you couldn't help but think of a Teemu Selanne quote earlier in the week, in which he said, “When they score one goal, all the heads go down and the body language goes, ‘Here we go again’. We have to change that.”
Things did get better for the Ducks this time, as they got within a goal of the Predators, but never tied it. They did get a big goal in the final minute of the first when a Cam Fowler shot from the point nicked a screening Devante Smith-Pelly and darted over the shoulder of Pekka Rinne. It was an awkward way for Smith-Pelly to get his first NHL goal, since the score was credited to Fowler for most of the game until replay reviews determined Smith-Pelly got a piece of it, which we didn't even find out until much later.
Either way, Anaheim was within a goal and on a power play in the second, offering hope that was tarnished when Martin Erat got on a breakaway, was pestered with a couple of stick slaps from behind by Lubomir Visnovsky and was stoned by Hiller. The official behind the net immediately awarded a penalty shot, a call that was questioned by many and became even more painful when Erat whistled a perfect wrist shot into the top corner.
Francois Beauchemin's got the Ducks within one again when he jabbed at a loose puck and got it behind Rinne. But one more time our hearts were broken by Smith, who beat Toni Lydman and one-timed a Wilson feed to make it 4-2 Nashville. Thanks in part to another strong night by Rinne, that ended up being the final.
The numbers are hard to look at: a sixth straight loss, nine of the last 10 and a loss to the budding rival Predators at home, where Anaheim had owned an 18-3-2 record against them. The more uplifting number: 10 of the next 12 games are at home, a critical time for the Ducks to turn things around. That starts today at practice, and tomorrow night against the Canucks at Honda Center.
- - -
The Ducks made a move this morning, claiming former Winnipeg Jet (still feels weird to say that) center Ben Maxwell off waivers. The 23-year-old Maxwell played in four games with the Jets this season (no points) and is a former second-round pick by Montreal in '06. He played 20 games in two seasons there, and was traded to Atlanta (now the Jets) in a deal that brought defenseman Brent Sopel to the Canadiens. Maxwell played 12 games for the Thrashers last season.
Maxwell is expected to join the team ASAP and be available for tomorrow night's game.
We don't know much about him yet, but we do know he has met Justin Bieber.
POSTED ON Wednesday, 11.09.2011 / 2:09 PM
It couldn't come at a better time, this lengthy stay at home that starts tonight against the Predators at Honda Center.
This stretch -- in which the Ducks play 11 of the next 13 at Honda Center, only leaving town to go to LA and Phoenix -- comes in the wake of a road trip that Bobby Ryan called "an absolute nightmare." It comes to a team that has lost eight of its last nine, went down 5-0 in Detroit in its previous game and is last in the NHL in goals scored at 1.86
The Ducks have also played the fewest home games in the league this season with just four (that "home game" in Stockholm vs. the Rangers doesn't count), making this homestand a welcome respite. And you could hardly find a more intriguing matchup to launch it than the Nashville Predators.
The Preds, who ruined the Ducks' postseason last spring by eliminating them in six games of the first round, also contributed to making that Ducks trip so miserable. And it is that combination, in addition to some other factors, that has suddenly made Anaheim-Nashville an unexpectedly bitter rivalry.
Nashville dominated Anaheim 3-0 last October 29 at Bridgestone Arena, a game that got the Ducks' ire up for more than just a disappointing performance that kickstarted their five-game skid. Ryan Getzlaf was vociferous in his displeasure with Nashville pest Jordin Tootoo and his alleged diving, as quoted by Eric Stephens of the OC Register.
It will be interesting to see the interplay between Tootoo and guys like Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who was called for one of the slashes that Getzlaf referred to. Tootoo told The Tennessean newspaper today, "For me personally I know I'm doing my job, and I'm definitely going to bring that tonight."
The Ducks, meanwhile, have tried to downplay any animosity leading up to this game. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter right now,” said Teemu Selanne. “The main focus has to be (on us). We have to do our things right and get ourselves where we should be.”
David Legwand, the Predators' leading scorer with 14 points in 14 games, won't be in the lineup tonight as he recovers from what is being called an upper body injury. “I don’t think we have a lot of guys who are 18- to 20-minute guys who you can say, ‘go ahead and do it,’ ” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz about filling in for Legwand's absence. “It could be two or three guys picking up five or six minutes each.”
Nashville will have Pekka Rinne, who was tough on the Ducks last postseason and in that October 29 game, between the proverbial pipes tonight. Rinne gave way to backup Anders Lindback last night in LA, as the Predators were edged 4-3 in the first of a back-to-back. That win also snapped a five-game losing streak for the struggling Kings (the term misery loves company certainly has rung true for Ducks fans looking up the freeway at their rivals).
But as Selanne has said, it matters little what other teams are doing. Right now the Ducks' focus is on themselves, and there is no better time than during this friendly stretch of games. "I always believe that before the big success you have to go through some tough times," Selanne said. "Your team has to heal together, and I really believe this is one of those times.
"We have a really important home stretch coming up, so this is the time to take advantage of that and start really enjoying this game. This is the time. I'm really looking forward to playing well for the next month or so and turning this ship around."
- - -
By the way, if you're at Honda Center tonight or Friday night vs. Vancouver, you'll notice a giant tent taking up a good portion of the parking lot on the northeast side of the arena. The tent, to answer some of your questions, is for the big UFC event being hosted at Honda Center on Saturday and aired on Fox.
Speaking of UFC, Dominick Cruz (they tell me he's a big-time fighter) will be at tonight's game signing autographs during the second intermission.
POSTED ON Monday, 11.07.2011 / 2:45 PM
Having just watched them endure a treacherous seven-game, 13-day road trip with only one win and just five standings points, it's not easy to feel great about the Ducks right now. But there is only so much looking back you can do on a stretch where the Ducks lost 8 of the last 9, puntcuated by a disheartening 5-0 defeat in Detroit on Saturday night.
Instead, we can find solace in what's ahead for Anaheim, which has 11 of its next 13 games at home, the road games being relatively easy jaunts to LA and Phoenix.
And if that's not motivating enough, spend a few minutes with Teemu Selanne and things somehow get even brighter.
Selanne spent a good amount of time with a small gathering of reporters today, following the Ducks' first practice after that marathon expedition that ended with the Ducks having lost eight of their last nine. And as only Teemu can, he stayed upbeat while still remaining stern, at times laughing and smilling while also getting serious about what the Ducks need to do to turn things around.
And when he was done talking -- but not until each reporter had run out of questions -- it was easy to think this too shall pass, and see things a whole lot sunnier than we did in the wake of Saturday's disheartening 5-0 loss in Detroit.
"Obviously it’s tough to lose in this league, especially on the road, you have too much time to think about the bad things," Selanne said. "I always think before you have success, you have to go through some tough times together. I really believe this is one of those times. I can’t wait to start winning again, and turn this around and have fun again. We have an important home stretch coming up and it’s the time to take advantage of that and start really enjoying this game."
"I always think before you have success, you have to go through some tough times together. I really believe this is one of those times. I can’t wait to start winning again, and turn this around and have fun again. We have an important home stretch coming up and it’s the time to take advantage of that and start really enjoying this game." Teemu Selanne
Selanne maintained that so much of what is ailing the Ducks right now is between the ears.
"You know what, everything is about confidence," he said while turning to his more philosophical side. "I don’t care who you are or what you do. If your confidence level is not where it should be, it’s tough to do anything great. When you don’t play with confidence, it’s like you’re expecting something bad to happen. When they score one goal, our heads go down and the body language is like, Here we go again. We’ve got to change that. Right now we need a couple good games as a team, like really good games, to get the confidence going, and after that, it’s easy."
There is no better time than the present, with the Ducks staying home (or close to it) for such a prolonged stretch. And it's about time. The Ducks have played nine games on the road (including two in Europe) and just five at Honda Center. "We have this home stretch coming up and this is the time," Selanne said. "I’m really looking forward to playing well in this next month or so and really turning this ship around. I don't think we've gotten close to our best level yet."
Selanne said he took a look at the grease board in the players' lounge that shows the updated conference standings and felt good about where the Ducks were despite that brutal stretch.
"If you look at the standings, as bad as we’ve played, we’re still only two points out of a playoff spot," he said, and it's true. The Ducks' 13 points has then two back of the eighth spot, just three back of fifth. "Everything is in our own hands. It’s not like we’re behind the 8 ball. At the same time, it’s not like we can wait. Everybody in this room has to do the job as well as they can and not wait for anybody else to do it, whether you play 30 minutes or you play 2 minutes."
There is also this: Through 14 games, the Ducks have 13 points. Through 14 games last year, they had ... 13 points. That team finished fourth in the Western Conference. It's cliche to say it's a marathon, not a sprint. But you know what? It's a marathon, not a sprint.
"It’s good to remind yourself, as bad as it is, it’s not that bad yet. We can’t do anything about the games we lost, but there are a lot of things to do before Wednesday’s game. We just need to focus on that, win that and move on."
Just before wrapping up, Selanne revealed that at last night's somewhat late team Halloween party, he went as ... Batman. Seems about right.
- - -
The Ducks were missing a few bodies in practice today, as Saku Koivu and Francois Beauchemin were both out with the flu, Nick Bonino rested that hyperextended knee and George Parros sat out after taking a deflected puck to the face again (this time in practice Friday in Detroit). Parros got hit with a puck that caromed off the crossbar in practice and did damage to the right side of his face. Right after it happened this time, he tweeted: Groundhog day today at practice...guess my left I got jealous of all the attention #thisisgettingold and posted this picture.
It was revealed this afternoon that Parros had laser surgery on his left eye today to correct a torn retina. He is expected to make a full recovery and return to game action in approximately four weeks.
Meanwhile, Randy Carlyle said that yesterday's rain here in Orange County may have affected his team coming off that trip. "Today was a flat day on emotions," he said. "A lot had to do with the rain yesterday. You come back off a long road trip and you're expecting sunshine. They probably laid around, watched football all day and spent the day with their families. Then, the rain comes and that might have put a damper on it."
Carlyle tried to lighten the mood by having the team play a little bit of ball hockey at the beginning of practice, then got much more stern when the pucks hit the ice. He could be overheard saying the Ducks were playing "summer hockey" out there, to which Selanne later responded, "I wouldn’t call it that because summer hockey’s fun. This is not fun. I love summer hockey. Maybe it looks like it, but it doesn’t feel like it.”
Like Selanne, Carlyle was able to paint a more positive picture of the Ducks' plight. "As poorly as we talk about the results of the trip, we lost an overtime game and two shootouts. If we would have won those, then we'd be feeling a lot better about ourselves today," he said. "That is the difference between what is deemed as a successful road trip versus not having one. It's one goal here and one goal there. Two shootouts and an overtime really turned the road trip into a negative for us.
"Everybody needs to feel good about themselves. We're not proud of what is happening on the ice. We want to change the way we are playing. The ownership of our record lies directly with the players and coaching staff ... What we stressed at the end of practice is, we recognize how we've played, where we're at, who is responsible and how can we change it. That is all about us. It's not about anybody else."
POSTED ON Friday, 11.04.2011 / 11:11 AM
You live by the shootout, you die by the shootout, and for Ducks fans, that method of breaking ties last night managed to break our hearts.
A strong effort by Anaheim in the final period and a half against the Rangers at the Garden was sullied by a crushing defeat in the oh-so-fickle shootout.
Moral victories aren't worth a whole heck of a lot -- one standings point, to be exact -- but the Ducks can take solace in a second-half performance against the Blueshirts that was leaps and bounds better than what they showed in Washington (despite the fact they scored three fewer goals). The Ducks were all over the Rangers net in the last period and a half, but just couldn't manage to squeeze much past a last line of defense known as Henrik Lundqvist. All Anaheim got was this seemingly innocent wrist shot on the rush from Bobby Ryan that managed to dart past Lundqvist's stick.
Meanwhile, the same Jonas Hiller who had a forgettable night against the high-flying Capitals looked more like the Jonas Hiller we're used to, making a number of acrobatic, game-rescuing saves among his 24 on the night. Most notable was this one on a Ryan Callahan breakaway, when the Ducks defense completely lost track of the NYR captain, and Hiller came up big with the leather on a number of other occasions.
But ironically enough, the same shootout that gave the Ducks a 2-1 victory over the Rangers last month in Stockholm did the complete opposite in the Garden. The elation we felt over Teemu Selanne's effortlessly roofed backhand was overshadowed by former Duck Erik Christensen and Marian Gaborik's scores on Hiller.
Still, the one point gained in that game and the one two nights prior in Washington prove valuable for a seemingly struggling Ducks team. Yes, they've lot seven of eight, but they've gained points in four of six games on this grueling journey, and can salvage a .500 trip with a win tomorrow night in Detroit.
Oh yes, Detroit, where the puzzling fortunes of the always-mighty Red Wings has gotten to the point where we're seeing articles entitled What's Wrong with the Red Wings? The Ducks and Wings could probably share some stories, as they too had a hot start to the season, only to see things slow down. They were undefeated after five games, then lost six in a row (including a 4-1 defeat to Calgary at home last night) and are now 13th in the Western Conference (Anaheim is 11th). They're the first team in NHL history to win the first five, then lose at least the next six, a record they're not likely to put on a plaque in the hallways of Joe Louis Arena. But you've got to believe one thing is for certain -- they, like the Ducks, will turn it around. It's just a matter of when.
Let's just hope it's not tomorrow night at The Joe.
POSTED ON Thursday, 11.03.2011 / 1:35 PM
He's been his team's best player, while at the same time its most outspoken critic. And after Anaheim's last game in Washington -- in which he had a four-point night that defied his age for the millionth time -- Teemu Selanne focused on nothing but the miserable result of that game.
Selanne was reportedly livid in the aftermath of a 5-4 overtime loss in which the Ducks surrendered leads of 3-0 and 4-2, and though he was more calm yesterday as the Ducks moved on to New York, his message remained unyielding. He called the defeat "very disappointing, obviously, for everybody..." and went on to define a Ducks team that has lost six of its last seven after a fast start to the season.
“I think it’s time for everybody to look in the mirror, be honest if you can be better and what you can bring for the team,” Selanne told reporters after yesterday's practice. “This is not enough. We all can play better. You have to push yourself. We have to push each other. It’s not time to be a nice guy anymore. Sometimes it hurts, but you have to do it.”
At 41 years old, Selanne leads the Ducks and is tied for fifth in the NHL with 14 points. His four points against the Caps (two first period goals and two assists) made him the oldest player to score that many in a game since 42-year-old Tim Horton had four assists for Pittsburgh against Philadelphia on Jan. 15, 1972. (Yes, that Tim Horton, co-founder of the Canadian coffee giant.)
But that production has done little lately to lift the Ducks out of this mini-slump. "You have to just learn,” Selanne said. “It’s a long season. You’re going to have highs and lows, but it’s a team’s job to find a way to get the job done. You need everybody. There’s no room for passengers right now, especially when the team is struggling. Everybody has to play their best and the effort has to be there every night. If not, it’s bad news.”
The Ducks' next chance to turn on that effort comes tonight at Madison Square Garden, where the Ducks battle the New York Rangers (the mere mention of which always makes me think of Mystery Alaska). The Rangers (4-3-3 and 10th in the East) are coming off a 5-2 drubbing of the Sharks on Halloween night. Despite the defeat, Sharks center Joe Thornton said of the Rangers, "They were probably the softest team we played on the trip. We should have had these two points." Responded NYR coach John Tortorella, "It surprised me, and I've never heard a player say that." Click here for more from him.
Bigger than that news for the Rangers is the return of embattled Sean Avery, who is back on the roster after clearing re-entry waivers. Avery, however, will not play tonight, according to Tortorella. Avery, apparently, approved of that decision. “Really, the guys played pretty good last game,” he said after his first practice Wednesday. “They had a big win, so I wouldn’t change the lineup.”
Good to know. The Ducks' lineup, meanwhile, will be altered slightly since Nick Bonino won't play tonight as he rests a hyperextended knee suffered on Tuesday night. Brandon McMillan reportedly centered the third line in the morning skate with Matt Beleskey and Andrew Gordon.
The Rangers are thinking payback after suffering a loss to the Ducks on October 8 in Stockholm, a game in which Andrew Cogliano scored his only goal of the season so far and Bobby Ryan won it in a shootout. Cogliano, by the way, didn't score a point while playing on a revamped second line at Washington, though he was on the ice for both of Selanne's goals and Saku Koivu's first of the campaign. As he tries to fill the hole left by Jason Blake's injury, Randy Carlyle was very high on how that line performed Tuesday night, and Selanne called Cogliano a "good fit" on the wing. It's expected that the trio will be intact again tonight in New York. “Now we just have to spend more time together and get the chemistry going,” Cogliano told the OC Register. “I’m very excited about this.”
What would be even more exciting is a badly needed Ducks win tonight, and whatever Selanne might have said in the last couple of days has certainly been heard by his teammates. “A guy like that talks, guys listen and he doesn’t talk a lot so it’s nice when he does," Bobby Ryan said. "A lot of guys need to step up and take charge and do what we’re paid to do or expected to do. The pressure’s that come with all the stuff that we get, we need to live up to.”
Said Randy Carlyle of the recovery from that last loss, “It’s time for us to flush that. There’s no better time than the opening faceoff here this evening.”
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It didn't get mentioned here yesterday, but Devante Smith-Pelly's appearance in Tuesday night's contest was his 10th game of the season, meaning if he were sent to juniors this season (and thus wouldn't be eligible to return) the Ducks have burned a year off his entry-level contract. The 19-year-old winger can't be sent to the AHL because he is under 20. The next significant plateau for Smith-Pelly is the 40-game mark, which would start his clock toward his first year of free agency.
Said Bob Murray about Smith-Pelly, "So far he's doing fine. He hasn't regressed at all. He continues to not look out of place out there. Yeah, there's a 10-game decision. But to me the 40-game thing, such as what happened with Luca Sbisa, is as important a decision."
POSTED ON Wednesday, 11.02.2011 / 12:01 PM
Going into the building of one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and coming away with a point would often be cause for celebration.
Last night in Washington was not one of those times.
The Ducks, who looked so in control for much of the game last night against the Caps at Verizon Center, had to be wondering how they walked away with a crushing 5-4 overtime defeat. Anaheim led by as much as 3-0 in the second period and 4-2 halfway through the third and couldn't hold it against a hard-charing Caps team that never stopped firing.
Despite a shot advantage that ballooned to 40-15 in favor of Washington, the Ducks could have still escaped with a tense 4-3 victory if not for Nicklas Backstrom's rebound goal with just 42.0 seconds left in regulation. And while momentum can often be overrated, the ice was heavily tilted in the Caps' direction, making Backstrom's game-winner seemed almost inevitable.
Jonas Hiller, who certainly couldn't have been blamed on that last goal -- as the puck trickled through Toni Lydman to Backstrom right on the doorstep -- nevertheless had a night he'd like to forget. The Joel Ward goal that somehow snuck under Hiller seemed harmless enough, as it made it 3-1 Ducks with 6:37 left in the second. But things got worse when Hiller seemed to have some indecision while playing a puck away from his net, and couldn't recover before Dennis Wideman blasted a slap shot by him.
“I thought one of our guys was coming back,” Hiller told the OC Register. “I was a little surprised that nobody was coming because it wasn’t icing. I thought well we’ll take that icing call and I was surprised that nobody was there. And then I thought I’ve go to play it.
“The puck just wouldn’t want to come back [to me]. If I knew right away, sure I would have played it right away. That’s what I’m saying. The wrong decision at the wrong point.”
Washington got within a goal with 8:18 left when a seemingly benign Troy Brouwer shot deflected straight into the air off Hiller's normally reliable glove and fluttered behind him.
Hiller had a number of clutch saves among his 35 on the night, but said, "In the end, I still can’t be happy. Normally those things happen if you’re not sharp enough. It’s always going to happen, those kinds of things. But, yeah, I definitely can’t be happy with the way I’m playing or the way we’re playing right now. I know I have to step it up. It’s definitely a tough loss.”
A win in that game, would have been a huge boost to a Ducks team that has struggled on this seven-game, 13-day road trip and has now lost six of seven. Part of that struggle had been rooted in their inability to score goals, something that certainly wasn't a problem last night. That was especially true for that revamped second line of Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano, which accounted for those first three Ducks goals -- two by Selanne and Koivu's first of the season. (Selanne, by the way, had a four-point night, making him the oldest player to do so since 1972.)
It was during that time everything was going the Ducks' way, a time when an impending overtime loss seemed almost impossible. You had that feeling again when Corey Perry never gave up on a pinballing puck around the net and jammed it through to make it 4-2 Ducks, giving them some breathing room with 10:47 left in the game.
That goal left Ducks fans (at least this one) thinking, Okay, that was a little scary but we've got this now. That's what made Backstrom's last-minute goal and his stomach-punch in overtime that much more devastating. All I can remember thinking while watching the Caps celebrate was, I feel sick. (I believe those words may have been used in a text message or two.)
And after it all sinks in, the only thing to focus on is what's next. In this case, a date tomorrow night with the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. A win there will seemingly turns things around for the Ducks and hopefully make us forget what went down last night in D.C.
Well, not completely forget, but certainly make it a little easier to bear.