Adam Brady is the Director of Publications & New Media for the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center. Email him by CLICKING HERE.
Updated March 31 at 12:38 p.m.
There is so much to cover today (especially with me being out of town Friday through Sunday afternoon) that I hardly know where to start. Actually, I do. Let’s start with last night’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Stars, which packed plenty of importance for
I have to admit that for some reason I didn’t have a good feeling about that shootout last night. I guess my mind was still stuck in the past two years, when J.S. Giguere wasn’t all that comfortable in the shootout and And I didn't feel any more optimistic after the first attempt when Ryan Getzlaf slipped the puck under Turco. Hard to believe, but the crafty Getzlaf is just 1 for 11 on the shootout this year, 6 of 24 in his lifetime.
And I didn't feel any more optimistic after the first attempt when Ryan Getzlaf slipped the puck under Turco. Hard to believe, but the crafty Getzlaf is just 1 for 11 on the shootout this year, 6 of 24 in his lifetime.
But seeing Giguere make that final save and then raise that glove to the sky was a welcome sight and a sign of just how far he’s come in the shootout. The Ducks are still just 7-7 in them this year, but those seven wins are fifth in the NHL. Teemu Selanne again incorporated the skate-as-hard-as-I-can-at-you-then-slip-the-puck-under-you move that gave him a goal in the shootout victory over the Kings. And Chris Kunitz made a pretty move to his backhand for the clincher.
It was a relief to see the Ducks beat Turco twice in the shootout, since he had managed to break our hearts on a couple of occasions in regulation. First was this ridiculous save on what looked like a sure goal for Brian Sutherby, who won't see too many nets more open than this one in his life. Poor Sutherby had to be exasperated after that one, especially since he has yet to score a goal in a Ducks uniform. Then there was the play Turco made in springing out of the crease and knocking the puck away from Todd Marchant, only to see Travis Moen pounce on the rebound, shoot it under a prone Turco and hit the inside of the post.
Despite what happened last night, I still can't escape that tension when the five-minute overtime runs out with no goals scored and I know we're going to the shootout. The good news is, we won't have to worry about that starting next week.
I was surprised to not see Mathieu Schneider given a turn since he scored the shootout game-winner against L.A. and with two goals in regulation last night, certainly was a candidate for Randy Carlyle's tendency to use a guy with a hot hand. And while Schneider might have been waiting in the wings for a possible fourth or fifth round, the Ducks didn't need him.
Speaking of surprises, how about the eyebrow-raising healthy scratch of Doug Weight last night? Weight has just one point in his last six games and Carlyle's call to keep him in a suit and tie for the night, “Just a coach's decision. We felt that right now there is some work to be done. He'll get another opportunity to come back into our lineup, for sure. We're going to need everybody, as we talk about all the time.”
Weight's scratch was somewhat forced by Getzlaf's return to the ice, and last night painted a pretty clear picture of just how much the Ducks need that guy. In his first game back from that "upper body" injury, he had assists on both Schneider goals, and both were pinpoint feeds to set up the shots on net. That was the kind of offensive creation Anaheim could have used when Getzlaf was out of the lineup Friday night against San Jose and the Ducks fell 3-1.
After the game last night, Carlyle was his typical self with his enthusiastic endorsement of Getzlaf's contribution to the team: "Getzlaf looked a little winded at times," Carlyle said. "He's still a pretty good player with the puck."
That'll make a guy blush.
Following last night's victory, Anaheim is left with an uncharacteristic five days before they play their last two regular season games over the weekend. And there is a possibility those games might be rendered far less meaningful by the time they roll around. The Ducks have a "magic number" of two points to clinch the fourth seed and home ice for the first round. That means that any combination of two points gained by the Ducks or lost by Dallas would seal it. Dallas plays at Phoenix and home against Phoenix on consecutive nights Thursday and Friday (yet another in a long line of NHL scheduling quirks this season), and they need at least three points in those two games to force Anaheim's hand this weekend.
Even if the Ducks have home ice already clinched, there could be some meaning to those two games when it comes to the return of a couple key players. The Ducks got good news on Carter's recovery from a broken wrist suffered on Feb. 20 after he visited with a hand specialist in Minnesota for three days. He could be back on the ice when the Ducks practice tomorrow (they're not surprisingly off today) and Randy Carlyle said he could "possibly play one of those games" on the weekend. Meanwhile, Chris Pronger comes back from his eight-game suspension for the regular season finale on Sunday, and getting one game under his belt before the playoffs start will be nice.
And if you're looking for an idea of when those playoffs will start, we've just been notified that the NHL won't announce its schedule until Sunday night, after the Ducks play the last regular season game in the league against Phoenix.
Following last night's victory, Anaheim is left with an uncharacteristic five days before they play their last two regular season games over the weekend. And there is a possibility those games might be rendered far less meaningful by the time they roll around. The Ducks have a "magic number" of two points to clinch the fourth seed and home ice for the first round. That means that any combination of two points gained by the Ducks or lost by Dallas would seal it. Dallas plays at Phoenix and home against Phoenix on consecutive nights Thursday and Friday (yet another in a long line of NHL scheduling quirks this season), and they need at least three points in those two games to force Anaheim's hand this weekend.
My email inbox filled up this weekend with emails from readers pointing out some interesting things. First of all, the Portland Pirates' bus caught on fire last Saturday on their way to a game in Providence. Apparently a tire blew up and started the whole thing. No one was injured, but the equipment was smoke-damaged and the game was delayed an hour as they got on another bus to finish the trip. Here is the video of the news report, which is really a series of still pictures of the bus. Thanks to reader Kathy who let me know about this story and wrote, "It all smells pretty bad and so did the boys but they are all ok...and we all got a laugh because a story that came out of it was that 6'4" Mike Hoffman was in the back of the bus and he literally hurdeled the seats to get out, losing a shoe in the process and as he was doing that he was asking Bruno St. Jacques to hurry. Bruno just kept saying he wasn't scared because he always wanted to be a fireman."
Ryan Getzlaf is featured in a new Stanley Cup Playoffs commercial produced by the NHL. (Fixed the link from earlier.)
Congratulations are in order to the Yorba Linda Blackhawks Squirt B team, which has 9 families on it who are Ducks season seat holders. The Blackhawks won the CAHA state championship over the weekend.
Going back a few days, leading up to the Ducks-Sharks battle on Friday night, Ryan Garner of the Vallejo Times-Herald wrote a blog for HockeyBuzz.com that has to be one of the most absurd and irresponsible things ever written in the history of the game. Garner spent more than 1,000 words encouraging the Sharks to injure Chris Kunitz for the hit Kunitz put on Jonathan Cheechoo in the waning moments of Anaheim's loss at San Jose the week before. Here's a sample: I think the Sharks need to give Kunitz a taste of some beaver food, attacking him with a solid slash across the ankle or a cross-check to the face. I don’t like the idea of attacking a guy from behind, and you don’t want to do any serious damage. Ultimately, the most important thing is to inflict pain without drawing a major suspension. One or two games is fine, but you don’t want it dragging into the postseason...
Well done, Ryan. Somewhere there is a village missing it's idiot. Feel free to take your journalism degree and light it on fire. I wasn't here that morning, but apparently Chris Pronger read the blog, printed it out, highlighted certain parts and held court in front of the Ducks beat writers after Friday's morning skate and spoke at length on how reckless he thought the blog was. Thankfully, the Sharks resisted the urge Friday night to do Kunitz any harm.
A reader named Vivian has asked me to inform Ducks fans of the banner she has put together for the team going into the playoffs. She has had as many fans as possible sign the banner with their well wishes. If you're going to be at the last regular season home game Sunday, you can find the drop by Section 202, Row F, Seat 7 and sign it yourself.
Last but certainly not least: Looks like everyone's favorite player is in a little hooker trouble. Thanks to reader Charity for emailing me about this one.
Updated March 27 at 12:27 p.m.
As regular season games go, they don't get much more meaningful (or thrilling, for that matter) than last night's dramatic 2-1 shootout victory over the Kings. Here's a checklist of what the Ducks accomplished last night:
- Clinched a playoff berth for the third straight season
- Captured the inaugural Freeway Face-Off title
- Won their 10th straight game at home, extending their franchise record and NHL season high
- Proved they can win even without their leading goal-scorer, leading points scorer, team captain and No. 1 goalie
- Showed that if anything should happen to their No. 1 goalie during the playoffs (or in the coming seasons), they'll still be in pretty good shape
- Put six points of distance between themselves and the fifth-place team (suddenly the Calgary Flames), boosting their chances for home ice in the first round
- Kept that flicker of hope alive for catching the Sharks for the Pacific Division title
And if you want a reason for all of those things, look no further than Jonas Hiller, who was nothing short of brilliant last night. And of his 31 saves (many of them spectacular), none was more dazzling than this one on the Alexander Frolov breakaway that had the packed Honda Center house holding its collective breath in anticipation.
The only play that got a louder response from the standing room only crowd was Mathieu Schneider's simple reach-back wrister in the shootout that sealed the victory. You have to love Schneider's reaction to the goal as much as the shot itself. If you look closely, I think you can see those big pearly white teeth actually glistening. It was an ironic series of events for the very likeable Schneider, whose ugly turnover at the blue line sent Frolov off and running on that breakaway. Hiller bailed him out with what Schneider later called "one of the best saves I've seen in a long time" and opened the door for Schneider to shine in the shootout.
Let's not forget Teemu Selanne's goal in the third round of the shootout, which the Ducks desperately needed after Dustin Brown connected right before him. I liked Selanne's technique on the play. He skated a hard and fast beeline right at Ersberg, who barely had time to ponder what was coming, before Teemu slipped the puck under him.
Also, great to see Bobby Ryan get his first goal since his call-up on March 7, a pretty slingshot at the best possible moment from the slot.
The victory again came on a night where I didn't exactly think the Ducks looked their best, and they were noticeably beaten in the energy department by the Kings for a good portion of the game. And while Anaheim again didn't produce much on the scoreboard, they at least threw 40 shots at rookie Erik Ersberg, who was just as good as Hiller on the night.
How great was the chant of "Hiller, Hiller" from the Ducks faithful last night? Hiller said after the game that in his home country, "it's more common. The fans shout your name once or twice a game. That's the first time I've heard it over here. That was a great feeling. I was kind of surprised."
And you had to love Hiller's reaction when Prime Ticket's Lindsay Soto asked him in front of the Honda Center crowd and TV audience if "this is what it feels like to be in the zone." Unlike most goalies, who would probably dismiss such a claim, Hiller said, "Yeah, I think so."
A little later, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle was incredibly effusive with his praise of Hiller. "That's what you have goaltenders for," Carlyle said. "That's what they're supposed to do. Stop the puck."
Okay, maybe not.
As disturbing as the photo of the fan with the split Ducks-Kings jersey was last night (scroll way down on last night's game log), how horrifying is this photo of Ducks backup J.S. Aubin, a King as of a month ago? Hell of a job with the sticker, boys.
Looking ahead, while the likelihood of the Ducks catching the Sharks in the Pacific remains a stretch, it does bring to mind this scene from the classic cinema masterpiece, "Dumb and Dumber":
"What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me... ending up together?"
"Well, that's pretty difficult to say. "
"Hit me with it! I've come a long way to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?"
"You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?"
"I'd say more like one out of a million."
"So you're telling me there's a chance."
The Sharks play the Stars tonight in San Jose in an always-riveting division battle between those two teams. Should the Sharks somehow lose (which isn't likely considering how lousy Dallas has been), Anaheim would remain four points back of San Jose (five if they lose in extra time). That sets up the Ducks-Sharks battle Friday night that should be a glorious game. Let's hope the Ducks can break their string of 20 minutes, 30 seconds without a shot on goal (going back to that last game in San Jo).
The bad news is that I won't be here for it. I have to go out of town Friday afternoon, so Matt Vevoda will be handling the game log/recap duties. So, for those 14 of you who keep up with the game log during the game, be nice to him.
Last thing. I should mention that since I linked to that Richie Sambora story yesterday, there was a development later that the underage girls in the car with him were his daughter and her friend. Still not good for Richie, but much less greasy.
Updated March 26 at 12:57 p.m.
But they'll have to go it with no Perry, no Pronger, no Getzlaf and no Giguere. While there were hopes for the latter two to make it back in the lineup tonight, that isn't going to happen. There are hopes for a Friday return for both of them. By the way, we're listing "upper body injury" for Getzlaf officially, but if you want to find out what the injury is more specifically, it doesn't take much research. Getzlaf accidentally let it loose to reporters earlier in the week and later realized his mistake. So now he's joking with the beat writers that he has a sore ankle to try and throw off the scent (a little late).
Anyway, the Ducks will have to try and do it without them against a Kings team that is calling these games against the top teams in the division "our playoffs" because their so meaningful to the opponents. That showed last Saturday night when L.A. handed the Stars a 4-2 loss at Dallas. The Kings would love nothing more than to delay
The Ducks would have wrapped that thing up with a victory over the Kings in the last matchup, Jan. 24 at
Selanne also pointed out that despite having no chance at the postseason, the Kings still have reason to fight hard, aside from the natural allure of the Ducks-Kings rivalry. "Obviously, they are fighting for their jobs," he said. "That's the best motivation you can really have."
The Ducks and Kings face off one more time after tonight, a week from Saturday at Staples Center. That's the furthest Anaheim will have to travel in its last five games of the regular season, plus hopefully the first two games of the playoffs. It's a nice make-up for a team that had to play two games in London to start the year, and then another three on the road after that.
By the way, the Ducks can match their record for home victories tonight (26, set each of the last two seasons). Of course, one of those "home" wins was that second game in London. It's hard to believe the Ducks, who seemed nearly unbeatable at home last year, can match that record in what really has been an up-and-down season this year.
With Giguere out tonight and Hiller likely making the start, it's an interesting matchup of 26-year-old rookie Europeans if the Kings' Erik Ersberg (a Swede) also gets the nod in goal. Ersberg has been very effective for the Kings since being called up 10 games ago when Jason LaBarbera went under the knife for a hernia. More on those two in Graig Woodburn's story in the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
Should be a good one tonight, and I'm expecting some noise from the Honda Center crowd (for both sides).
In the department of Things Hardly Anyone is Thinking About Right Now, the O.C. Register's Dan Wood apparently got bored and asked Scott Niedermayer about his plans for next season. It was Wood's great-great grandfather who was the first reporter to ask Mrs. Lincoln, "So, aside from that, what did you think of the show?"
I highty doubt Scotty would put the Ducks through what he did this past summer (and fall ... and early winter), but let's not talk about that right now. I did at least like this quote: "I'm just concentrating on the next five games, and then hopefully having some fun in the playoffs."
And as we all know, winning is a lot more fun than losing.
One last bit from the Register today. The one thing I took from this story was, Richie Sambora was hanging out with minors? Ick. By the way, Bon Jovi is stopping here on their tour next weekend.
Oh, and speaking of ick...
Updated March 25 at 2:57 p.m.
Remember these Brian Burke quotes from days gone by regarding the three draft picks Anaheim acquired from Edmonton as compensation for the Oilers (and their GM Kevin Lowe) signing Dustin Penner? There was this one back in August:
“We’re going to take three draft picks back and given Kevin’s recent performance I expect them to be excellent picks.”
And there was this one at the trade deadline, explaining why Burke didn't trade away the Oilers' first-round selection:
That last quote came almost a month ago, on Feb. 26. That night, the Oilers defeated a very good Detroit team, 4-3 in a shootout. Then Edmonton won again. And again. In fact, after last night's convincing 5-3 victory over Northwest Division leader Minnesota, the Oilers have won 12 out of 15 in the last month. Suddenly the team that was 27-30-5 a month ago and whose only postseason plans involved tee times and vacation homes, has just passed Nashville for the ninth spot in the West and is just three back of Vancouver and Colorado for eighth.
What once promised to be a lottery pick for the Ducks is looking dangerously like a mid-round selection.
But the Ducks have more immediate concerns, obviously. Namely, getting into the playoffs themselves. That can be made official tonight if Nashville (which still has more potential points than Edmonton) loses at home (in regulation or OT) to Columbus. The Predators website notes that it's "the final visit the BJ’s will pay to the Music City in 2007-08."
Wait a minute. Does anybody actually call the Blue Jackets that? I hope not.
Even if Nashville doesn't lose tonight, and even if the Ducks don't get at least one point against the Kings tomorrow, we've reached a point where the chances of the Ducks not qualifying for the postseason is about as remote as Shayne the so-called actress or Marshana the fashion designer winning this season's edition of "The Bachelor." (Yes, I've watched the first two episodes. Just kill me now.)
Even if Nashville doesn't lose tonight, and even if the Ducks don't get at least one point against the Kings tomorrow, we've reached a point where the chances of the Ducks not qualifying for the postseason is about as remote as Shayne the so-called actress or Marshana the fashion designer winning this season's edition of "The Bachelor." (Yes, I've watched the first two episodes. Just kill me now.)
Things might be tough tomorrow night for an Anaheim team that may not have J.S. Giguere and Ryan Getzlaf back yet. For the second straight day, neither player skated with the team (though Getzlaf again did alone before practice), and neither was given an overly positive outlook from Sir Randy. We'll have more than that in Matt Vevoda's notes from practice later this afternoon. If you're a Center Ice subscriber, not only does the Nashville game pack some intrigue, but so does the Calgary-Vancouver game. Don't look now, but that Ducks-Dallas first round matchup that seemed all but guaranteed not too long ago is being threatened by a Flames team that is just one point short of Dallas' fifth spot. Then again, they're also a point short of the Northwest lead, which would vault them into the No. 3 seed. Should be a very interesting next couple of weeks for several teams in the league.
If you're a Center Ice subscriber, not only does the Nashville game pack some intrigue, but so does the Calgary-Vancouver game. Don't look now, but that Ducks-Dallas first round matchup that seemed all but guaranteed not too long ago is being threatened by a Flames team that is just one point short of Dallas' fifth spot. Then again, they're also a point short of the Northwest lead, which would vault them into the No. 3 seed. Should be a very interesting next couple of weeks for several teams in the league.
We have a little update on Jonathan Roy (see yesterday's post below). He was suspended seven games today and Dad was docked five of his own for allegedly egging his boy on. Yesterday, Jonathan apologized for the double-bird he flashed to the crowd just after attacking the opposing goalie and just before tangling with another guy.
"I acted in unacceptable fashion for an athlete," Roy said. "I acted out of adrenaline and frustration. But like any athlete who wants to play and win, I had no right to act that way ... What you saw and heard wasn't me. And please know that you will never see behavior like that from me again."
Well, not for seven games at least.
Updated March 24 at 1:24 p.m.
This is what I get for working on the weekend. After putting my all into yesterday's post and with the Ducks having a few days between games, the well is dry today. Considering far fewer people check this page on the weekends than they do on the weekdays (when they're looking for something other than work to do at their desks), I considered changing the date below and acting like I wrote it on Monday. But alas, I couldn't do it.
So, what else do we have today? We'll update you on the Ducks' injury situations (according to Randy Carlyle) in the Notes section of today's piece by Matt Vevoda going onto the site within an hour or so. Just to let you know, J.S. Giguere did not skate today and Ryan Getzlaf did skate before practice, but not with the rest of the team. We'll see in the coming day or so whether the initial prediction that they would be back Wednesday night holds true.
In other news, Jonathan Roy, son of Patrick and a backup goalie with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rose to prominence over the weekend in a much different fashion than his dad. Good ol' Jonathan lost his mind during a brawl in the second period of a playoff game last Saturday, attacking the opposing goalie (who didn't provoke him and put up no defense), beating him to a pulp before flipping off the crowd and going after a second player. Here is the jaw-dropping video of the incident. For the Cliffs Notes version, you'll want to fast-forward to the 1:25 mark when Roy first goes after the other goalie, then the 2:30 mark when Dad (who is also the coach and owner of the Remparts) looks on in disgust.
And we thought Patrick Lalime went overboard. That was nothing compared to classy Jonathan. I liked this quote from him a few days later: "Patrick looked at me and told me to calm down. I said to myself, 'He doesn't want me to go,' but when the line judge released me, I said to myself ... 'I'm going.' " I guess when your dad's the coach, and you're older than 12, you call him by his first name.
And of course, Dad has some goalie-fighting history of his own, all seemingly against the Red Wings. Here's a famous one with Chris Osgood, a fight that is only eclipsed by the ridiculously enthusiastic announcer. I believe his next job was with the WWE. Then of course there was this one against Mike Vernon and this abbreviated one against The Dominator.
There are a couple of games to keep your eye on in the next three days that affect the Ducks. Edmonton, which has won four of its last five and is making a late run to ruin Anaheim's chances of getting a lottery pick, plays tonight at home against Minnesota, then again at Minny on Wednesday. The Oil is just three points back of Colorado's eighth-place spot in the West. And again, Nashville plays tomorrow night at home against Columbus, and a Preds loss means the Ducks are officially in the playoffs.
And in this week's edition of Jumping the Gun magazine...
Updated March 23 at 11:14 a.m.
There is an old story about Joe Namath when he was one of the most eligible bachelors in America during the peak of his Hall of Fame career with the New York Jets. After a night of late-night carousing, Namath walked out of a bar with a girl that is described in the story as "maybe a 6." When Namath's teammate, Ed Marinaro, expressed disappointment that Broadway Joe wasn't leaving with someone better, Namath famously said, "Eddie, it's three in the morning, and Miss America just ain't coming in."
In other words: It ain't pretty, but it'll just have to do. The same could be said of about a third of the Ducks' victories this season, none more so than last night's 2-1 squeaker over the Phoenix Coyotes. For the second night in a row, the Ducks generated very little offensively (this time just 15, compared to 13 the night before). But two Teemu Selanne goals were just enough, thanks to another brilliant performance by the getting-better-with-every-game Jonas Hiller. Playing on consecutive nights for the first time in his young NHL career, Hiller magnificently stopped all but one of the 31 Phoenix shots (here is one of the more impressive ones). And the Ducks needed all of those saves on a night when they seemingly couldn't get much going again. But those two goals were enough to beat Ilya Bryzgalov for the first time.
Just as importantly, Dallas found a way to lose to the Kings at home yesterday, giving Anaheim a five-point edge over the Stars for that all-important fourth slot and home ice in the first round.
"Obviously, nobody is happy about the way we have played the last couple of games," Selanne said. "Some nights, like tonight, it's not going to be pretty, but you have to find a way to win."
How pretty was Selanne's breakaway goal on Bryzgalov early in the first to give the Ducks a lead they would never relinquish? I don't know, something tells me the guy's still got it. By the way, whenever I link to video, let me apologize for the NHL's insistence on running a 15-second ad before you can view the highlight. In the pantheon of annoying advertisements, that's got to be up there with the one with the various Dallas Cowboys yawning, the Carl's Jr. one with the guy who disgustingly has chili all over his face and any ad that involves John Mellencamp's "This Is Our Country."
Certainly Anaheim had its excuses last night when three of its four All-Stars (Corey Perry, Chris Pronger and Ryan Getzlaf) and a fourth who would be an All-Star right now (J.S. Giguere). Getzlaf's injury is listed only as "upper body," which I assume means it could be anything from a stomach muscle strain to scalp irritation. I wish I could give you more, but they don't tell me anything either. What I am hearing is that both Getzlaf and Giguere are expected back in time for Wednesday's home matchup with the Kings.
"I'm already feeling much better than yesterday," Giguere told reporters. "It's much better than this morning, actually."
I was informed by a faithful reader named Laura that a group of at least three dozen Ducks fans traveled to Phoenix to crash the party at Jobing.com Arena for last night's game. If you caught the game on TV, you couldn't help but notice two of the Ducks' more conspicuous fans sitting pretty close to the ice (see photo on right), as they do at Honda Center. Man, the tennis balls must have some serious connections.
Because Nashville edged Chicago in a shootout last night, the Ducks couldn't clinch a playoff berth with the Phoenix victory. But a Nashville loss Tuesday night at home against Columbus gets the Ducks in. (If that doesn't work out, at least a point in that Kings game seals it for Anaheim.)
When double-checking the Predators' schedule on their website, I came across this blog written by their version of the Power Players. Man, I thought the Ducks were guilty of letting just about anybody write a blog. Here's a sample line you'll probably never find in mine: Last night we played the Edmonton Oilers … what a game! We started at doors at 6:00. It was freezing! I always feel bad for the fans who are standing outside in the cold, but then I realize we’re the ones with our tummies exposed!
Indeed you are.
By the way, if you were at Honda Center (as I was) for yesterday's two NCAA Tournament games, you could hardly have enjoyed yourself anymore than watching the two dramatic wins by UCLA and Stanford. Just an unforgettable experience. Let's hope Honda Center gets just as electric for hockey in the coming months. And yes, I do mean months.
Updated March 22 at 12:53 p.m.
I think that you'll find, if you really study the game, that it's very difficult to score a tying goal in the third period if you don't take a shot. But that was unfortunately what Ducks fans had to suffer through last night as Anaheim couldn't manage one shot in the final 20 minutes, failing to add to their already-paltry total of 13. And it wasn't just the shots that came up short in that final period. Anaheim seemed to spend about as much time in the San Jose zone as your typical fan tries to spend in a sports arena men's room.
It wasn't that the Ducks weren't working. You have to give credit to a very, very good San Jose team, which has now won 14 out of 15, and you can pretty much hand them the Pacific Division title now. You certainly can't blame Jonas Hiller, who was thrust into net before the game when J.S. Giguere came down with back spasms. By the way, how scary was it when Hiller went to the bench in the third with a cut on his forehead and Giguere clearly not available to go in there? Randy Carlyle said after the game, that if Hiller couldn't go back in, "There was some mention of George Parros" donning the equipment. Now, that would have been a sight.
San Jose put the clamps on the Ducks with an effective neutral zone trap, the Honda Accord of hockey strategy. In other words, it's not exciting, but incredibly effective. (By the way, I own a Honda Accord.) But even with the trap in full effect, San Jose still managed to pepper Hiller with 40 shots, many coming off forced Anaheim turnovers. If there is a better team in the league right now than San Jose, I'd like to see them.
The Ducks will soon announce they are calling up J.S. Aubin from Portland to make up for Giguere's injury. Aubin has been shining with the Pirates since the Ducks got him from the Kings at the trade deadline.
So, you can wave bye-bye to the Pacific Division crown. Now the focus is the Ducks hanging on to that fourth spot in the West and guaranteeing home ice for the first round. The Ducks hold a three-point lead over fifth-place Dallas, who is leading the Kings 1-0 in the first period as I write this. The Ducks face another tough road test tonight at Phoenix against a Coyotes team that has beaten Anaheim four straight times.
The Ducks can clinch a playoff berth under the following scenarios: a win at Phoenix AND a Nashville loss vs. Chicago (in regulation or overtime). Or they could do it with a win at Phoenix and a Dallas win over the Kings. The Ducks cannot clinch with an overtime or shootout loss tonight.
The good news is, the Ducks have no regular season games remaining on KDOC this season. In addition to the shoddy picture, the Ducks are 4-8-1 this season when their games are aired on that channel, including 1-7-1 on the road.
I'll be tuning into that game after hopefully seeing UCLA and Stanford pull out wins at Honda Center today. Let's hope we can make it three California victories for a Saturday.
Updated March 21 at 3:59 p.m.
There has been some argument to my point in the last post that the Ducks technically cannot clinch a playoff berth with a win tonight. It's been pointed out that if the Ducks win tonight, that gives them 43 wins and 94 points, which is the exact total Nashville would also finish with if they win their seven remaining games (and the Ducks lose all of theirs). Thus, that would require a head-to-head tiebreaker, and Anaheim has won three of the four games between the two teams this season.
But this has been looked into even further by our PR staff with the league, and there is another scenario that precludes the Ducks clinching tonight. I'm not going to go into the mathematics of the whole thing, but it requires Nashville winning the rest of their games, the Ducks losing the rest of their games and Dallas winning something like one remaining game in regulation, with that lone win coming against the Ducks on the 30th. This practically impossible series of events would create a three-way tie with the Ducks, Preds and Stars in which the tiebreaker takes each team's percentage of points earned against both teams. In that scenario, the Ducks lose out.
Again, a nearly impossible scenario, but still mathematically possible. Now that my head has stopped spinning, let me reiterate: We'll have to wait at least one more night.
Updated March 21 at 11:56 a.m.
Welcome to tonight's edition of The Biggest Game of the Year.
The Ducks play at San Jose tonight having won their last six in a row there, tied for the longest in any road city in Ducks history. But that streak means very little tonight against a San Jose team that has won (and it pains me to write this) 13 of its last 14 and leads the Ducks by five points in the Pacific.
Much has been made of the Sharks' hot play since they acquired defenseman Brian Campbell from the Sabres at the trade deadline, and went on to go 11-0-1. It's the Ducks' first game against this version of the Sharks, but also the first time the two teams have played since the Ducks got Teemu Selanne back Feb. 5 and went 15-3-1 with him.
If the Ducks have any hope of catching San Jose in the Pacific Division race, they need this one tonight. And beating the Sharks again a week from tonight at Honda Center wouldn't hurt either.
Beyond that, the Ducks' "magic number" for clinching a playoff berth is 3 points right now. That's the combination of points either gained by Anaheim or lost by the top team outside playoff position. Right now, that's ninth-place Nashville, which has lost 5 of its last 6, including a 6-3 defeat to Detroit last night. The Preds don't play again until tomorrow night (the same time Anaheim is at Phoenix), so the Ducks can't officially clinch a berth until then.
Either way, you've got to be pumped for this one tonight.
Eric Stephens in the L.A. Times has a story this morning on Todd Bertuzzi and his game-winning goal Wednesday night against Dallas. The story touches on a good point about Bertuzzi's first season in Anaheim, which on paper looks relatively disappointing with 14 goals and 22 points. But the stats don't paint the picture of Bertuzzi's effectiveness on that line with Ryan Getzlaf and (for most of the season) Corey Perry. Bert's ability to create havoc in front of opposing goaltenders and or drawing attention away from those two has contributed to the face they've both had career years offensively.
The upcoming issue of The Hockey News (see right) includes its annual list of the top general managers in the NHL, and Brian Burke has been appropriately ranked No. 1 (after being third last year). But I'm not sure how seriously you can take a list of the league's top GMs when it ranks New Jersey's Lou Lamoriello No. 2. Lamoriello, you may remember, fired coach Claude Julien just before the playoffs and took over the coaching duties himself. All Julien had done was lead the Devils to the Atlantic Division title. With Lamoriello behind the bench, they lost to the Senators in the second round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, even The Hockey News admits Lamoriello "can be difficult to work for..." That gets you No. 2? What does he have to do to be No. 1, light the office break room on fire?
The San Diego Union-Tribune has a story about the possibility of hockey returning to San Diego and the likelihood of the Ducks moving their AHL affiliation there. It seems like a longshot for the immediate future, but could certainly be a possibility as the Ducks' deal with Portland ends after this season. As much as the Portland community has been good to the Pirates (and you'd hate to see the Ducks' affiliation taken away from them), it isn't exactly practical to have to ship players between Orange County and Maine every time the Ducks make a move.
Yesterday's NCAA Tournament games were very enjoyable, despite the fact that there was no Ashley Judd sighting during the Kentucky-Marquette game. Believe me, my friend and I scanned the arena for her and came up empty. We did everything just short of standing in the Kentucky section and yelling, "Is Ashley here?" Nevertheless, an entertaining day, despite Cornell's weak showing against Stanford, which made me think: If Cornell was the best in the Ivy League this season, I'd hate to see the worst. But Cornell's performance was drastically overshadowed by the 29 points Mississippi Valley State put up against UCLA. I didn't have high hopes for the Delta Devils (yes, that's their nickname) when they came out in green and white uniforms that simply said "Valley" on them. It looked like the fake unis you'd see for a high school basketball scene on a TV show. In fact, I could have sworn they were the same uniforms worn by the rival high school of Zack Morris' Bayside Tigers.
The one complaint I have about the NCAA Tournament in person (and I've gone a half dozen times) is the hour-and-a-half they allow for TV timeouts (something you don't really notice when you're watching at home). And there are four of them a half. Hey, NCAA and CBS, I understand the tournament is like a billion-dollar-a-year revenue producer and you're trying to squeeze in as many commercials as possible, but you think you could cut those TV timeouts by a minute or two? It's ridiculous. Then again, it did help that our seats were five rows away from the cheerleaders for all four games. And after watching four different cheerleading squads during the day, I can confidently say the UCLA Bruins are the No. 1 seed in the West in more ways than one.
It might have also helped if the NCAA allowed alcohol to be served in the arena during the tournament. It sure was strange going up to the bar in the Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Club yesterday and sheepishly ordering a Diet Coke. Between the Ducks Watch Party at The District on Wednesday night and yesterday's games, that's two straight sports-watching events I've attended in the last 48 hours in which there was no beer in sight. I think I'm getting a little queasy.
Updated March 20 at 10:27 a.m.
Absolutely monster win for the Ducks last night, not just because it came on the road against a good Dallas team, but because it came in a game that Anaheim looked to have no business winning in the first 20 minutes. The Ducks put exactly zero shots on Marty Turco in the first 11 1/2 minutes of the game and looked (as my concerned co-worker put it on the phone), like they had just gotten off the plane a half hour before the game. And the shorthanded goal by Brenden Morrow 12:44 into the game didn't help matters either.
But like good teams do, the Ducks somehow found a way to win this one. And you need to look no further than the penalty-killing unit, which despite lacking its tallest component, limited the Stars to just (I can't believe this is true) two shots on goals during 12 minutes and 44 seconds of power play time. And the biggest stretch was the four minutes Rob Niedermayer was mistakenly given for high sticking Mike Ribiero halfway through the third period. Yes, it was a terrible call by the officials, since replays showed that the stick that struck Ribiero actually belonged to his teammate, Mattias Norstrom. At the same time, it's unreasonable to place too much blame on that call, since it was even hard to tell on the replay that the stick practically came through Niedermayer's body to Ribiero's face.
Thankfully, that anguish-inducing four minutes came and went with no damage (aside from the inevitable fatigue it caused the Ducks penalty-killers). And speaking of the officiating, I admitedly didn't think it was the most brilliant call in the world when Morrow was whistled for interference with just over a minute left. But we'll take it. And on a night when the Ducks power play was again not clicking, Todd Bertuzzi's goal was a pleasant surprise -- make that a very pleasant surprise. The shot looked to surprise an otherwise-outstanding Marty Turco and somehow slipped through him. As pleasing as the goal was, just as satisfying may by the "You've got to be kidding" reaction by the Dallas play-by-play guy.
So, the Ducks put a little distance between themselves and the Stars and gain some confidence against a team they need it for right now. Anaheim had dropped five of the first six against the Stars, their likely opponent in the first round. It became a little more likely last night when San Jose edged Minnesota 4-3 in a shootout to officially qualify for the postseason and maintain their five-point edge over Anaheim in the Pacific.
While the Ducks' hopes of catching San Jose in the race look bleak, they can at least make a dent tomorrow night, another game on this trip you have to be looking forward to immensely.
And as great as it was to see the Ducks win last night, we got even more good news later in the evening: Amanda Overmyer is out! Finally.
Okay, that's about all I have for today, as I embark on a four-game marathon of NCAA basketball at Honda Center. That starts with Marquette-Kentucky, a game I can only hope and pray Kentucky alum Ashley Judd is attending. First they put Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson in the same movie and now I have the slight chance of seeing Ashley Judd in person? My head just may explode.
Updated March 19 at 4:16 p.m.
I just got my latest Sports Illustrated and there is another NHL-related Players Poll in there. This one asked 365 NHL players who they thought would win the Stanley Cup. Here are the results:
Detroit Red Wings ....... 62%
Anaheim Ducks ....... 20%
Ottawa Senators ....... 8%
San Jose Sharks ....... 3%
Montreal Canadiens ....... 2%
Calgary Flames ....... 1%
It's flattering, but I'm not sure the Ducks deserve it right now. Time will tell, especially after this week.
Updated March 19 at 12:04 p.m.
Tonight's game at Dallas marks the start of a Ducks road trip that isn't their longest of the season, but it's certainly the most intriguing. The three games against the Stars, Sharks and Coyotes will likely make or break Anaheim's chances at a second straight Pacific Division title.
"Your goal is to win the division," Todd Marchant said yesterday. "When you start training camp, that is your goal. We still have an opportunity to do it. We have games against those teams that we're fighting with."
That starts tonight against a Stars team that has had Anaheim's number this year, winning five of the six matchups. And while all but one of those games came before the return of Teemu Selanne and three of them preceded the return of Scott Niedermayer, they also came without Dallas' trade deadline acquisition of forward Brad Richards. Also, the Ducks had Chris Pronger and Corey Perry for each of those six games, while tonight (and for the next several games) they do not.
Strangely enough, the Stars have struggled since Richards had five assists in his debut in Dallas on Feb. 28. Since then, they have lost five of their last six as the Stars continually work to fit him in with their other forwards. Meanwhile, the Stars have their own injured/suspended players, as defensemen Sergei Zubov (foot) and Philippe Boucher (shoulder) are out with injuries and shutdown forward Steve Ott is serving a three-game sentence for a hit he made on Jordan Leopold of Colorado.
The Ducks took several of their losses to Dallas this season at a time when Anaheim was committing way too many penalties and in turn giving up way too many power play goals. Dallas has scored nine goals on 26 power play chances against the Ducks this season, a troubling 34.6 percent rate. But for a Ducks team that has cut way down on its penalties (witness only one against St. Louis last Saturday night) and has improved its penalty killing (19 of the last 21), things are drastically looking up in that department.
Last night the Kings did nothing to help the Ducks, managing just a third-period goal on San Jose's newly acquired backup Brian Boucher in falling to the Sharks 2-1 at Staples Center. That put Anaheim five points behind the Sharks, with San Jose holding a game in hand. The Sharks play at home against Northwest Division leader Minnesota tonight, another game that Ducks fans will want to keep an eye on.
Despite Friday's game and a home matchup with the Sharks on the 28th, a shot at the Pacific still appears to be a tall task for Anaheim. But the Ducks are still striving to hold onto their fourth-place position in the Western Conference, which would assure them home ice in the first round of the playoffs. That makes tonight's game with Dallas (one point behind the Ducks in fifth) all the more important. And you might want to get used to seeing this Dallas team, because the Ducks could easily face them again when the playoff start in three weeks.
Frankly, I can't wait.
I was thinking of stopping by the Watch Party at The District tonight, to see what that was like. Anyone still going to those?
A couple of things before I go. Terry Frei has a story on ESPN.com urging the NHL to bring back the light jerseys at home. He points out that the NHL switched to the dark jerseys at home because of the presence of dark third jerseys for many teams, and equipment managers don't want to have to carry two sets of uniforms on the road. I think he makes some good points, though I personally prefer the Ducks' black jerseys and enjoy seeing them at home.
Mathieu Schneider won his first-round match with Jaroslav Modry in the Kings Madness competition, continuing the tradition this time of year of 12 seeds upsetting 5 seeds. Now, Mathieu Schneider goes up against Marty McSorley, whose illegal stick in the '93 Stanley Cup Final helped lead to Schneider's Canadiens winning that series and the Cup. Here's another advantage Schneider has over McSorley: Schneider never did anything like this. Ducks fans, get on there and vote Matty to another victory.
Updated March 18 at 3:31 p.m.
I have absolutely no idea what to say about this.
Updated March 18 at 12:18 p.m.
In all of our lives there are always things we don't want to do, things that seem unappetizing or even appaling at the time. But we do them for the greater good. When you were a kid, you hated broccoli. But you forced it down because it was the only way you got dessert. You dread doing your taxes every year, but you do it to avoid going to jail. You hate visiting your in-laws, but you do it because ... well, you really have no choice.
Now, Ducks fans, I'm asking you to do something tonight that most of you can't imagine doing. But you have to do it for the greater good:
You have to root for the Kings.
Tonight the Ducks' so-called rivals host the Sharks, with San Jose looking to win its ninth straight road game and further distance itself in the Pacific Division race. San Jose is three points ahead of the Ducks and four ahead of Dallas (a number that will be affected when Anaheim takes on the Stars tomorrow night).
And while the Kings are officially eliminated from playoff contention (and were unofficially eliminated somewhere around Christmas), they would still love to ruin San Jose's night. Here's a quote from the AP preview of tonight's game:
"We look at it almost like playoff games for us, trying to spoil something for these teams that are fighting for a playoff spot," goaltender Erik Ersberg said.
That quote might be a little more meaningful to me if I knew who the hell Erik Ersberg was. I actually had to look him up, and it turns out the Swedish Ersberg has played seven games in goal for the Kings and has a 1.99 goals against average and a .939 save percentage. Where has this guy been all year? He's the sixth goalie the Kings have used.
Tonight is just the first of several times Ducks fans will need to root for the Kings down the stretch. San Jose plays two more games after tonight against Los Angeles, a team they've had trouble with this year. The Sharks have just two wins in five games this year, both of them at Staples Center. You can catch tonight's game on Fox Sports West at 7:30.
Doug Ward has some interesting thoughts about the Ducks and Sharks in the most recent Pacific Division notebook on NHL.com. Although, I have to disagree with his listing Francois Beauchemin in the "Who's not" section because he "has not scored in five games." Uh ... yeah? And? Not exactly a drought there, Doug. But I can't quibble with Doug's writing too much, since he gave me a nice recommendation for this job two-and-a-half years ago.
Speaking of my job, one of the responsibilities I sometimes get the biggest kick out of is checking and answering the Contact Us emails that come through the website. As you might imagine, that mailbox has been stocked over the past few days with anti-Pronger diatribes. Some of them are relatively tame, calmly stating their case as to why they think Pronger deserves a longer punishment. But some of them are downright vulgar (those are the fun ones). One of my personal favorites ended with a request for Pronger to perform an unspeakable act on a goat. Very mature.
I especially like the ones where the emailers think they're writing directly to Chris Pronger, as if we're going to forward these ranting emails to him. We also get a lot written directly to Brian Burke, especially over the summer when the Burke-Kevin Lowe flap was heating up. Always cracks me up. Most of these seem to come from Canada, by the way.
Speaking of the Pronger suspension, Scott Burnside has an interesting column on ESPN.com calling for an overhaul in the method by which the NHL disciplines its players. Burnside would like to see the proceedings treated like an open court session covered by the media. (Yeah, like that's going to happen.) Meanwhile, he points out a recent study that revealed that "Almost one-third of suspensions came against teams playing one of the six Canadian squads, while only five of 50 suspensions this season were levied against players from Canadian teams." Sounds like a coincidence to me. He also says: "If players knew their disciplinary hearings were going to be subject to scrutiny from the media, a la traditional court reporting, perhaps they'd be less likely to stomp, slash, gouge or kick opponents."
Um, probably not.
The Ducks headed out this afternoon for Dallas, where they start a mammoth three-game road swing that will see them play San Jose on Friday and Phoenix on Saturday. With those three games and the NCAA Tournament kicking off Thursday (including four games right here at Honda Center), it's not a bad time to be a sports fan.
Updated March 17 at 2:56 p.m.
Between the Chris Pronger suspension, playing just well enough Saturday to beat the Blues and the Sharks finally losing, it was a pretty eventful weekend in Ducks land.
Let's start with the Pronger suspension, since that ranks first both chronologically and in order of most buzz generated. In case you missed it (and you probably didn't), Pronger was suspended eight games for stepping (or "stomping" as some put it) on the leg of Vancouver's Ryan Kesler during Wednesday night's game at Honda Center. After looking at the replay many times, I don't think there is any doubt Pronger deserved the suspension, and eight games (or something in that neighborhood) is justified.
But the suspension has caused many to express outrage that the punishment wasn't more severe, especially when unfairly comparing it to the Chris Simon episode. Simon, you'll remember, was docked 30 games earlier this year for this incident in which he stepped on the ankle of Jarkko Ruutu. But anyone who thinks that the Pronger incident and the Simon incident are similar beyond their first names and the equipment involved is delusional. Simon's situation was clearly one where he had time to contemplate and calculate his act. He was standing near the bench long after a play had been whistled dead and stepped down hard on Ruutu. Pronger, on the other hand, reacted to the fact that Kesler (whether intentionally or not), locked up Pronger's leg and wouldn't let him loose. He momentarily reacted out of frustration, and probably regretted it. Should he have done it? Absolutely not. Should he be punished for it? Absolutely, but certainly not as severely as Simon was.
Chris Simon told the Minnesota Pioneer Press that he didn't think Pronger's punishment was fair, considering what he was slapped with. "I think it's definitely not fair," Simon said. "My opinion is there's obviously two sets of rules."
Yes, Chris. There are two sets of rules. For two completely different types of incidents.
We've all been there. We've all reacted in the heat of the moment in a way we regret later. We've flipped people off in traffic. We've screamed at our significant others (although I haven't). Just the other night, a buddy of mine was playing around and body-checked me as I passed him in the hall. He shoved me a little harder than he intended and I went slamming into a girl I was walking next to. So, in the heat of the moment, I kicked him in the leg as I walked by. No, I shouldn't have done that. But in the 1.5 seconds I took to react, it seemed like the right thing at the time.
At the same time, you have to wonder if Pronger's suspension would have been longer if Kesler had been injured on the play. The NHL is traditionally a league that punishes based on damage inflicted. You high stick someone, it's two minutes. But if you cut them, it's four. The fallout and lingering stigma on Todd Bertuzzi for his hit on Steve Moore four years ago wouldn't be nearly as intense if Moore was still playing.
Let's not even talk about the hypocrisy of the fact that if Chris Pronger had elected to punch Ryan Kesler in the face 15 times, rather than step on Kesler's heavily protected leg, he'd probably get 5 minutes in the box, or at worst a game misconduct.
But it's an eight game suspension -- and I think a fair one at that -- and we move on. The Ducks clearly did that by making easy work of the Blues on Saturday, despite admittedly not playing their best game. It looked early like Anaheim would continued to have trouble getting anything past Manny Legace, but the Ducks finally broke through on Mathieu Schneider's backhander with under a minute to go in the period.
And who would have guessed that the guy with the two-goal game on Legace would be Rob Niedermayer? But sure enough, Robbie had his first two-goaler since 2006 and neither of the two came with an empty net. It was Ryan Getzlaf who found the empty net with Legace halfway off the ice late in the third to seal the victory, on a pinpoint shot from behind the blue line.
We've said it before, but good teams win on nights they're not playing their best, and Anaheim certainly did that on Saturday. That combined with Dallas' lost to Vancouver that night gave the Ducks second place alone in the Pacific, with a very enticing matchup at Dallas coming up Wednesday.
Meanwhile, San ... Jose ... finally ... lost. Although, the Sharks' 2-1 shootout defeat at home against Edmonton was bittersweet for Ducks fans, since the Sharks still got one point out of the deal, as did the Oilers, who have suddenly won 9 of 11 and their first-round pick the Ducks own is getting worse and worse with each passing day. Don't look now, but the Oilers are just five points out of the eighth-place spot in the Western Conference. It's a longshot, but stranger things have happened. Not much stranger, but stranger.
Some fans have noticed that recently the order of the Ducks banners hanging from the Honda Center rafters has changed. Here's a before and after (courtesy of a member of the Ducks message board):
Apparently, the Ducks players, notably Scott Niedermayer, decided the Stanley Cup Champions banner should be in the middle, rather than on the end. So, there you go.
Finally, today is not only St. Patrick's Day, but it's also Bobby Ryan's 21st birthday. Somebody get a chaperone on that kid right now.
Updated March 14 at 4:28 p.m.
It's not every day I can say this, but look who's on the front page of the Maxim magazine website. (Update: this link has been moved to here.
(Thanks to my little sis for sending this. Not sure why she was on there, though.)
Also, look who finished second in a recent Sports Illustrated players poll that asked, Who is the NHL's Best Skater?:
Marian Gaborik, Wild RW 32%
Scott Niedermayer, Ducks D 21%
Sidney Crosby, Penguins C 11%
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals LW 8%
Ilya Kovalchuk, Thrashers LW 5%
Niedermayer is 34, while the average age of the others in the top five is 23. Andy McDonald, by the way, got 1% of the vote.
And finally, yet another reason why quirky marriage proposals are a bad idea.
Updated March 14 at 2:07 p.m.
Well, it seems we have an "upon further review" situation with the Chris Pronger saga. The league is apparently taking a second look at the replay to determine whether or not Pronger deliberately stepped on Ryan Kesler’s leg during Wednesday night’s game.
I can't speculate on any of it, but word is the league will announce something soon. We're just not exactly sure when that will be. TSN has video of Pronger's reaction after today's practice, complete with a soundtrack of Brian Sutherby removing his tape in the background.
So, let's move past that and look at what else is ahead for the Ducks. In the only Saturday home game of the season, Anaheim takes on the Blues, a team that has been a downright catastrophe over the last three weeks. St. Louis has dropped all but one of their last 11 games, the only win coming at home against the Kings (which isn't exactly something to be proud of). Tonight would be a great time for the Blues to snap out of it, as they look to break up this increasingly annoying Sharks winning streak that has reached 10 games.
After tomorrow night, it's all Pacific Division foes for the Ducks for the remainder of the regular season, which is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is those last eight games include two each against San Jose and Dallas, which gives the Ducks ample opportunity to make a push for a second straight division title. The bad is that each of those eight games are going to be huge challenges. In addition to those games against very good Sharks and Stars teams are two games each against Phoenix (which has been killing Anaheim this year) and L.A. (which despite their record always get pumped up for the Ducks and would love nothing more than to deny the Ducks a division title).
I found myself in the strange position of rooting for the Red Wings last night, who helped the Ducks out with a comeback victory over the Stars last night. Detroit became the first team this year to clinch a playoff spot.
While the Stars lead Anaheim by a point in the standings, the Sharks are really the team to worry about, as they have a two-point cushion over the Ducks and have played three fewer games. Meanwhile, San Jose's next three games are against St. Louis, Edmonton and the Kings. You might as well throw the Manchester Monarchs in there as well.
Along with those three games, the Sharks appear to have the easiest time down the stretch run, which means this winning streak they're on could get even scarier. Take a look (thanks to co-worker Matt Vevoda for compiling this):
Ducks - 9 games left with opponents' record of 323-260-59 (.503 winning percentage)
Sharks - 12 games left with opponents' record of 420-364-78 (.487 winning percentage)
Stars - 9 games left with opponents' record of 325-254-64 (.505 winning percentage)
A reader named Vicky has sent me links to these funny spoofs on the NHL's "Is This the Year?" commercial that you might have seen a few times on Versus or elsewhere. I'm only posting two of the three links she sent, since the third one is fairly anti-Ducks (Burke and Pronger in particular). You'll have to find that one on your own. Anyway, this one and this one are pretty good.
One last thing for today. You know how in your wildest fantasties you've wished for a Jonas Hiller tribute video set to the tune of the "Titanic" theme song fading into some upbeat techno music? Well, your dreams have come true.
Updated March 13 at 12:26 p.m.
It appears that Anaheim's 4-1 trouncing of Vancouver last night at Honda Center is already being overshadowed by what Chris Pronger may or may not have done in the opening minute of the second period. According to TSN, Pronger will not be suspended for allegedly stomping on Canucks center Ryan Kesler when the two got tangled behind the Anaheim net after Kesler fell to the ice.
"He stomped on me," Kesler told reporters after the game. "He got me on the calf."
Whether Pronger did it deliberately or not is hard to say, though the Canadian broadcast seems to show it better than the Fox Sports cameras did last night. What you can see is the standing Pronger's skate apparently caught between the prone Kesler's legs, and it almost looks like Kesler squeezes them together to prevent Pronger from getting loose. Either that, or they were tangled up naturally. Pronger's skate does come down on Kesler's calf, but it's hard to see if it was done with malice.
Let's put it this way: If you're a Pronger hater (and there are a couple out there), you have no doubt he stomped down on Kesler's leg on purpose. If you're a Pronger or Ducks supporter, you've likely decided Pronger was just trying to put his skate down as he was losing balance in trying to get free, and Kesler's leg happened to get in the way.
Whether it was intentional or not, that hasn't stopped TSN, other Canadian media and a couple hundred comments posters from convicting Pronger. TSN refers to the Chris Simon incident from earlier this year and writes: "It also marks the second time this season that a player has stepped on an opponent while he was laying prone." You mean allegedly, right?
Meanwhile, in a blatantly biased story by Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun (an actual newspaper), he actually leads with the line: "Chris Pronger stomped on Ryan Kesler, and the Anaheim Ducks stomped on the Vancouver Canucks." He later writes that Kesler "appeared to be deliberately stepped on by one of the league's dirtiest players when the Canuck fell at the Duck captain's feet after delivering a check in the second period."
Either way, it appears unofficially the league didn't see it either and isn't going to suspend Pronger.
So let's focus on the metaphorical stomping the Ducks put on the Canucks last night. It isn't every day you can chase Roberto Luongo to the bench in the second period, and it certainly is surprising for an Anaheim team that doesn't score that many goals. On the Ducks' first goal, Luongo made a huge mistake on this play in trying to come way out of the net to get a stick on the puck in front of Todd Marchant, who was fresh out of the box. Marchant made a great play to not only get to the puck first, but to elude Luongo with one move and then hit the net from a pretty tough angle.
"I saw him come out so I kind of got on my horse," Marchant said. "I knew I was going to get to it before he was."
By the way, is there a better Ducks celebrater of goals than Todd Marchant? Every time he scores (and it's been a lot lately) he rejoices as if it was his first. Got to love that.
All of a sudden, after being thrust onto the second line in a shuffle caused by Corey Perry's injury, Marchant has a three-game goal streak. But he was the first to admit that each of those three have been somewhat kooky. Before the goal last night, there was this innocent backhander the night before in Phoenix that somehow seeped through Ilya Bryzgalov. And Sunday night against Montreal, he broke the Ducks 130-minute scoring slump with this pass that somehow got batted into the air and into the net.
Each of Marchant's three goals have been the first of the game, but the Ducks needed just a little bit more than that last night. And they got it from checking line guys Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer. Moen did a fantastic job on the penalty kill to outskate Alexander Edler for the puck and put a shot on net that Luongo couldn't handle. It was a long time coming for Moen, who had not only gone 27 games without a goal, but had countless close calls over that stretch. You might remember that Moen had the overtime game-winner in Game 4 of the semis last year in Vancouver, so he clearly owns the 'Nucks.
It was also great to see Rob Niedermayer add insurance and Doug Weight get just his second goal in 18 games. Meanwhile, Jonas Hiller continued to look solid and appears to be getting better as the season progresses. He didn't have to do anything spectacular last night, but still denied 30 of 31 shots and had a couple of multi-save sequences when the Canucks were pounding away deep in the crease.
So, the Ducks were rewarded for their victory with a day off today. They get back at practice tomorrow in preparation for Andy Mac and the St. Louis Blues in a rare Saturday game at Honda Center. After that, it's all Pacific Division teams the rest of the regular season (and quite possibly the first round of the playoffs). We'll focus on that remaining schedule and what it means for the Ducks tomorrow.
Updated March 12 at 12:02 p.m.
There is a reason NHL general managers don't typically like to trade players to teams within their conference, let alone within their division. You hate to take the chance of that player coming back to haunt you.
But while the Ducks had little choice but to let Ilya Bryzgalov go last November and see him get snatched up by Pacific Division-rival Phoenix, they've now been bitten by him in three shootout losses.
Bryzgalov's game last night was a microcosm of his career in Anaheim -- occasionally shaky, but often brilliant. He let through a bad goal to Todd Marchant late in the first and couldn't be blamed for Ryan Getzlaf's pretty kick-it-to-the-stick goal in the second. The rest of the time, he made some great saves (35 in all), including three big ones during that 1:57 power play stretch in overtime when it looked certain the Ducks would net the winner. (Anaheim is 0 for its last 17 on the power play.)
Then he hardly had to break a sweat on shootout attempts by Todd Bertuzzi, Todd Marchant and Chris Pronger, three choices for the shootout that were ... well ... let's just say they were curious. I would have liked to see guys like Getzlaf, Selanne, Kunitz or even Bobby Ryan get the chance, but I know Ducks coaches like to go with the guys who have the hot hand. Although, I'm not sure how "hot" those three were last night. I do know a lot of Ducks fans were simultaneously yelling, "What the..." followed by a commonly used expletive, when the Ducks' shootout lineup was announced on the telecast.
(By the way, between Bryzgalov, Bertuzzi, Kunitz and Getzlaf, do you realize in the last four paragraphs I've mentioned four players who have a "z" in their name? How many people do you know who have a "z" in their name? And these four used to be on the same team. Spooky.)
While Randy Carlyle and Brian Burke have let their disdain for the shootout be known, the Ducks needed that extra point last night, especially when San Jose won its 10th straight and leaped four points ahead of Anaheim in the Pacific. The Ducks, by the way, are 5-7 in the shootout this year, which is actually good compared to their 12-24 mark since it was instituted in 2005-06. The Ducks are 13th in the league in the shootout this year (not totally awful), while strangely enough, Edmonton is tops with a staggering 14-3 mark. Can you imagine what Edmonton's record would look like without that shootout success? That's tough to take for Ducks fans who have their eye on Edmonton's first-round pick in this year's draft.
The fact is, the Ducks shouldn't have even needed overtime or the shootout last night, squandering a two-goal lead during a time of year they can't afford to squander two-goal leads. J.S. Giguere, who was solid (if not spectacular) again in net, said it best: "We didn't match their desperation. They wanted it more than we did. This was about desperation, and we did not respond."
So the Ducks have dropped a shocking five out of six to Phoenix, and now face a Vancouver team that also has given Anaheim fits this season. Tonight is the Ducks' last regular season matchup against a Canucks team they easily vanquished in last year's playoffs. But this year the Ducks are 0-3 against them.
And tonight is the second of a back-to-back, a scenario that hasn't been kind to Anaheim this season. They are 11-13-3 overall, including 6-6-2 in the first game and 5-7-1 in the second. But then again, this is a Ducks team that has won seven in a row at home, so something's got to give.
The Canucks are on somewhat of a roll, bouncing back from an 0-2-2 stretch to win their last three. That included victories over Nashville (who let us down against San Jose last night), St. Louis and at Staples Center on Monday night. Strangely enough, that was the first win for Vancouver over the Kings in four tries. Meanwhile, the Canucks are playing with the same desperation Phoenix was, as they are clinging to that eighth and final playoff spot.
By the way, you may have noticed we've posted some new desktop wallpapers on the site. You may have also noticed we don't have new ones of Rob Niedermayer or George Parros. We're getting those up there very soon.
One last thing. I saw an article this morning about plans for a new levitating train that will take you from Disneyland to Vegas in less than two hours. Phenomenal idea. Let's get this thing built immediately. I don't care what it costs.
Updated March 11 at 11:31 a.m.
For the two seasons prior to this one, a Ducks-Coyotes matchup has been kind of like the varsity scrimmaging against the JV. The Ducks were an overwhelming 13-2-1 against Phoenix over the past two seasons, by far Anaheim's easiest division opponent.
But this year has been a much different story, with Phoenix winning four of the five matchups this year, including the last three in a row. Two of those three have been in a shootout and the other was a 6-5 overtime loss back in November (equally surprising since the Ducks scored five goals in a game and lost). To make matters worse, those two shootout losses came at the hands of Ducks castoff Ilya Bryzgalov. Although, what's worse: losing to a guy you let go on waivers or losing to Alex Auld? The Ducks fell to the mighty Auld in the other two losses.
Admittedly, the Coyotes are a much better team than they've been in the past. They're a whole 14 standings points higher than they were at this point last season and five points better than they were in '05-06. And while they're seven points short of the last playoff spot, they've probably convinced themselves they still have a shot. But a loss last Saturday to Ottawa didn't help, as the Coyotes appeared to be the only team the Senators were able to beat on this trip. Heck, the Sens even lost 2-0 to the Kings last week.
By the way, the Ducks aren't the only division opponent the Coyotes have thrived against. They are an eye-opening 16-7 this season against the Pacific, which you could argue has the best top 3 in all of hockey. But keep in mind that four of the five games between the Ducks and 'Yotes took place before the end of November, a time when the Ducks ... well, they just weren't the real Ducks.
Now is as good a time as any for Anaheim to finally figure out the Coyotes (who would have thought I'd ever need to write that?). Anaheim comes into tonight four points behind Pacific frontrunner Dallas and three behind San Jose (the "real" first-place team in the division since they've played three fewer games than the Stars).
At least so far, the Sharks appear to be benefiting from their trade deadline pickup of Brian Campbell from Buffalo, as they've won a staggering nine straight. While Dallas got off to a nice start after plucking Brad Richards from Tampa, they've dropped three of their last four. The L.A. Times this morning has a story on how those other teams padded their rosters (while the Ducks only picked up Marc-Andre Bergeron), and how the Ducks are just fine with that.
The story also focuses on the Ducks' possible first-round playoff opponents, listing the Sharks as a strong and intriguing possibility. I, for one, would love a first-round matchup against the Sharks, not because I think they would be an easier opponent than any of the other possible teams. I really don't, even though the Ducks have won four of five against them. I just think that would be a heck of a series with one of the Ducks' biggest rivals aside from Detroit (not a likely first-round possibility) and the Kings (rendered irrelevant the last three seasons).
Speaking of the Kings, they have a new feature on their website called Kings Madness, where they have their top 64 all-time players and fans are encouraged to vote for their favorites in a bracket-style competition. Wayne Gretzky is inexplicably the No. 4 seed in this thing, marking the first time Gretzky was ranked that low in anything hockey-related since he was three years old (and maybe not even then). I wish the NCAA Tournament winner was this easy to predict. I'd clean up in my pool. Ducks fans are encouraged to crash this thing and vote for Mathieu Schneider (the 12th seed in the "Gold" bracket) to the title.
More clips from other writers: Dan Wood in the O.C. Register has a story on the Anaheim checking line (a.k.a the reason there are Ducks names on the Stanley Cup right now), and how the return of Sammy Pahlsson has been a major boost. Pahlsson is getting to the point where he's mentioned as underrated so often, he's no longer underrated. Speaking of underrated and underappreciated, the L.A. Daily News has a nice piece on Kent Huskins, the Ringo Starr of the vaunted Ducks defensive unit. In it, the shy and pensive Huskins reveals he likes to watch "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," not because they're both laugh-out-loud funny and among the best comedies of all time, but because "I find them a fascinating way of thinking about things."
Um ... okay, Kent.
Updated March 10 at 4:11 p.m.
Don't ask my why I was on there, but I was visiting the website for the fantastic video game NHL '08 today and came across this image among the many screen shots of the game they have on there.
I always thought an Italian plumber hopping on turtles and eating mushrooms was a bizarre video game phenomenon. But this is an even stranger visual.
Updated March 10 at 12:58 p.m.
Already having trouble scoring goals and playing their first game without Corey Perry, the Ducks knew they would have their work cut out for them last night against Montreal. And even though the Ducks scored just 21 seconds into that game, let's face it, that wasn't exactly a textbook goal. And for the next 52 minutes, the Ducks seemed to be having the same problems that had plagued them in the prior two games. Nothing they put on net would get past rookie goalie Carey Price, and seven power play opportunities (including on 5 on 3) produced very little.
But one of the guys who needs to step up in Perry's absence, did exactly that last night. Ryan Getzlaf was expected to take more shots with Perry out, and he did just that with five (one short of the team high). But it was yet another pretty Getzlaf feed that pushed Anaheim ahead, as he somehow sent the puck through the crease and between the legs of Maxim Lapierre, where it hit off Kunitz and went in.
"I was more kind of directing the puck at the net rather than hitting Kuni back door," Getzlaf said. "It was just Kuni who went to the net hard and was able to tap in."
The only thing better than that go-ahead goal was Kunitz's celebration right after it, fitting for a team that was mostly coming up empty all night and for the two games before that. And it came from a guy who continues to personify everything it means to be an Anaheim Ducks player. Kunitz works his tail off every single shift, can create offense and will throw the occasional punch (or flurry of punches) when the situation dictates. Plus, he's an extremely personable, bright guy that faced long odds in building himself into a hugely valuable member of this team. If your favorite Ducks player is Chris Kunitz, you should be proud of yourself.
Meanwhile, another quietly indispensable Duck, Samuel Pahlsson, provided the goal that iced it last night. Just seconds after Kunitz's strike, it looked like Anaheim might be in danger of losing its lead when Todd Bertuzzi took that boarding call and put the league's No. 1 power play on the ice. But Pahlsson's steal of the puck and the ensuing 2-on-1 was a thing of beauty, and it was one of those things where you just knew Pahlsson would drill it home as soon as Scott Niedermayer made that pass. I feel like we've seen that type of goal from Pahlsson (on the rush from the right wing) on several occasions in the past couple of years. Here is the last one I remember. I could have sworn there was one in the playoffs last year, but I guess I'm wrong. But as Kunitz said, "Sammy seems to almost never miss those."
Anyway, a great win for the Ducks and it continued their domination of the Eastern Conference (8-2-0) and the Northeast Division (5-0-0). I can't help but feel the West is far superior to the East, and I remember feeling that way last season. Once the Ducks got past Detroit in that tough series, I remember thinking the Final would be a much easier test. And of course it turned out that way.
Unfortunately, the Ducks couldn't pick up any ground on their Pacific foes last night, as both Dallas (over Colorado) and San Jose (over Minny in a shootout) won. Even Edmonton (whose first-round pick the Ducks own) beat Chicago in overtime, so it wasn't a great night for scoreboard watching.
Even during the offensive slumps, the one thing that has rarely been in doubt this season is the Ducks defense, which did all it could to keep Anaheim in the game during that scoring drought. They came through again last night, limiting Montreal to just 21 shots, including 12 in the first two periods. And as he has done for the past month (or longer), J.S. Giguere sparkled again in net. And finally someone else besides the Ducks faithful is taking notice. According to a piece on The Hockey News website, Giguere deserves consideration for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender.
The story points out that not only does Giguere rank in the top five in the three main goalie stars (wins, save percentage and goals against), he is also ranked second in the NHL in save percentage in the last 10 minutes of the third period and save percentage on shots within 20 feet. Anyone who has watched the Ducks this year would be surprised by those stats -- not that he ranks second, but that he's not No. 1.
While those numbers support Giguere, he's always been a goalie for which numbers don't tell the whole tale. You can't put a statistic on the fact that if you had a must-win game in the playoffs, you couldn't find too many more guys you'd rather have in your net than Giguere. I still think that as good as Scott Niedermayer was last year, you could have made a great case for Giguere winning the Conn Smythe. Yes, he does have one of the best defensive groups (if not the best) in the league playing in front of him. But I believe that group is great partly because of what Giguere is doing behind them.
By the way, I thought Bobby Ryan looked very good last night, though I was surprised to see him on the fourth line. Randy Carlyle explained that he put him there to take some pressure off, but I would expect to see him moved up to one of the top two lines soon. We'll see. Ryan only put one shot on goal, but he seemed to get to a lot of pucks and made a couple of pretty steals in the Ducks zone.
The Ducks are practicing a little late today because today is team picture day. One of the cool things about this day is that Brian Burke has the entire Ducks staff pose with the players as well. The employees are broken up into groups by department, so there are about 12-14 different pictures taken. It's a nice perk that Burke provides to the staff and I always thought he should be commended for it. The players are great about it, too.
Updated March 7 at 4:03 p.m.
In the space of a few hours, Ducks fans have gone from lamenting the likely six-week absence of Corey Perry to inevitably looking ahead to what the Ducks will do without him.
To no one's surprise, Bobby Ryan was recalled today, and will join the Ducks for their practice at Anaheim Ice tomorrow morning. By the way, both J.S. Giguere and Chris Kunitz were absent from practice today, and according to Randy Carlyle they were both having wisdom teeth removed. Seemed like an odd coincidence to me, but that was the official word.
Speaking of odd twists of fate, how about the fact the Ducks have lost two guys in the last two weeks for extended periods, both to fluke injuries and both against Colorado? First there was Ryan Carter getting his hand jammed in the photographer's hole at Honda Center on Feb. 20 and missing four to six weeks with a broken wrist. Then there is Perry getting sliced by a goalie's skate and missing six weeks. Good thing the Ducks don't play Colorado again this season. Wild Wing might repel from the rafters and land on Scott Niedermayer, rendering him out for the season.
Okay, I said we were looking ahead, so let's do that. Of course Perry will be missed, especially at a time when the Ducks could seemingly be shut out by Dakota Fanning in net right now. (I'll probably pay for that one.) But if the Ducks have shown anything in the last year, it's the ability to step up when players are out and never use injuries as an excuse.
You have to be looking forward to seeing what Ryan can do in his third stint with the big club. You'll recall that Ryan was playing some pretty good hockey when Brandon Bochenski was acquired just after the New Year. Bringing Bochenski in prompted the Ducks to scratch and finally send down Ryan at a time when he was looking pretty intriguing. Not surprisingly, he put up some good numbers in Portland (just over a point a game) and now he's back with even those high expectations back on him. While he's not being brought in to specifically make up for Perry's lost goal-scoring, there is no doubt he's expected to step up.
While the pressure is seemingly on for Ryan to produce in the absence of the Ducks' top goal-scorer, he's in a different situation than his other two stints this season. It would appear there is a much less likelihood of Ryan getting sent down again this season, so he's not playing to stay with the big club this time. Brian Burke already showed confidence in him by not trading him before the deadline, though he was apparently coveted by several clubs). If ever there was a time for Ryan to produce, for the pieces to be in place for him to shine, that time is now.
It will be interesting to see how Ryan is penciled in by Randy Carlyle and his staff on the top two forward lines. Carlyle was very clear with reporters today on exactly who he will play Ryan with and even asked a couple of the writers for their insights. (Okay, you didn't buy that for a minute.)
Will Ryan be put in Perry's spot with Getzlaf and Bertuzzi? Will Selanne take that spot, with Ryan teaming with Weight and Kunitz? You'll remember that Ryan did look comfortable with Weight in the few games they played together, notably on this play and on this play.
No matter where Ryan fits in, he's going to have to step up with Perry on the shelf. But he's certainly not the only one.
“When you have key guys missing, it’s another opportunity for some other guys," said Selanne today. "A lot of guys are going to have to take more responsibility to fill that hole.”
Updated March 7 at 11:32 a.m.
Well, I'll tell you this...that wasn't good.
In a case of adding injury to insult, the 1-0 defeat wasn't the only thing the Ducks suffered last night at Colorado. The Ducks couldn't find the net for the second straight game, their 10th blanking this season, and have gone more than 130 minutes without a score. This time they were shut out by Jose Theodore, but that wasn't the only damage Theodore did to the Ducks on the night. Midway through the third period, his skate inadvertently cut into the thigh of Corey Perry and sent him to the hospital to repair a right quad tendon laceration.
Perry underwent surgery last night and is expected to be released from the hospital today or tomorrow. But the bad news is that he will be out of the lineup for approximately six weeks.
That's potentially devastating to an Anaheim attack that was having enough trouble scoring goals over the last two games with Perry in there. And by the way, the playoffs start in a little less than five weeks. The Ducks are bringing up Bobby Ryan to make up for Perry's absence.
There's not much else to say about the game itself, in which Theodore did make a few very good saves (including one on this Perry breakaway early in the first) but Anaheim never really threatened all that much when trying to tie it in the third. And Randy Carlyle juggled three of his four lines (leaving the checkers intact) to no avail, partly because of the Perry exit.
If there is a positive to take from the game (and there weren't a ton), it was the play of Jonas Hiller. The rookie made 29 saves and clearly followed Carlyle's requirement of his goaltenders "giving us a chance to win." As well as he played, Hiller could only focus on the one goal he did give up, a wrister to Wojtek Wolski in the second. “Right now, I’m more (mad) about the goal they got instead of the saves I made,” Hiller said. “I was a little late, so I was not fast enough on the ice. It slipped under my pads. I touched it, so it hurts even more. You know you’re there, and it still goes through. I’m a little angry about that, but it’s part of hockey."
Alright, let me move on to something that's only barely part of hockey, the Anthem Idol competition held at ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney last night. As I mentioned yesterday, I was one of five judges for the competition, and the whole thing was a blast. We were all pleasantly surprised by the talent of pretty much all of the 35 singers that tried out. There really wasn't one bad one in the group. I've watched enough "American Idol" to know there are always several people who get up there with no intent (or at least a delusional hope) of making it. But that wasn't the case last night.
The competition had the singers come up on the little stage in the corner of the dining room at ESPN Zone and each sing 30 seconds of a song of their choice (as long as it wasn't the anthem). We took them in groups of four, and after the fourth singer in each group was done, host Skylar Cuarisma (who was working double-duty at host of The Element) would interview one of the judges and get their comments. When she interviewed me, I commented on how great the singers were at that point and resited the urge to use the words "pitchy" or "dude." I did note that the last girl to sing in that group looked exactly like Winnie Cooper from "The Wonder Years". You've got to believe me. She really did. It was uncanny. (The picture to the right is Winnie, not the girl from last night, by the way.)
I didn't see this, but I was told by a couple of people that when I said that, the Winnie lookalike gave me a look of utter disgust. She clearly didn't take it as a compliment, but I'm not sure why. I (like most guys from my generation) have always had a major crush on Winnie Cooper (whose real name is Danica McKellar, by the way). And she's aged well, I should mention, appearing in a couple episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" in the last year.
For a more complete story on the event (including photos and video), check it out on the O.C. Register website.
By the way, on the actual American Idol, my disappointment last night with Kady Malloy getting kicked off was dramatically eclipsed by my unbridled joy that Danny Noriega was finally shown the door.
I heard both positives and negatives about the Ducks Watch Party last night, which was held outdoors at The District for the first time. Apparently the availability of food was great. The lack of availability of booze was not great. If anyone wants to email me about the experience, I'd love to hear about it.
Updated March 6 at 12:49 p.m.
Hey, did you hear the one about the time they held a hockey game and the October/November '07 Ducks showed up?
As well as Anaheim has played over the last month, last night the Ducks looked a lot like the team that struggled in the opening months of this season. A lack of discipline paved the way to 67 penalty minutes. Meanwhile, the Ducks could generate nothing offensively as they turned another backup goaltender into an All-Star for one night. This time it was rookie Corey Crawford, making just his second career start, who only had to turn away 19 mostly benign Ducks shots (the Ducks had just six with 2 1/2 minutes left in the second) in earning his first victory. While it was a reminder of months past, it was out-of-character for the new Ducks, who have averaged 3.8 goals per game since Teemu Selanne joined the lineup a month ago yesterday.
The penalties were also much more reminiscent of the Ducks of the first half of the season, rather than the team that has shown much better discipline in that department as of late. I can understand the motivation for George Parros and Sean O'Donnell to go after Chicago players after taking exception to Hawks enforcer Ben Eager taking head shots at Chris Pronger with Pronger wearing a face mask for a fractured jaw. But Parros took things a little too far by continuing to rain blows when Eager clearly wasn't going to fight back.
Don't get me wrong, I agreed with Parros' intent, just not his execution. Sure, he needed to step in when he saw Eager pull a cheap (but not altogether unexpected) move by hitting Pronger in his hard-to-reach head. And Eager didn't exactly earn his man card by turtling when Parros was looking for retribution. But there comes a time when vengeance quickly gives way to a situation where you might be putting the team in a hole.
"It's pretty classless to go after a guy when he's hurt like that," Parros said of Eager, while also pointing out that other Hawks were doing the same thing. "You have to expect something back ... There's a code of conduct out there to some extent. You finish your check and then you don't ease up on him. Throwing a couple of extra shots with hands to the face is pretty low."
"Some of their guys seemed to be a little braver with Chris and his thing on his jaw and they took a couple of shots at him there," O'Donnell said. "We kind of took exception to that."
But, he admitted, "maybe we lost our cool a little bit."
The Parros penalty led to the seven-minute power play (yet another of the rarities Ducks fans have witnessed lately), during which Anaheim thankfully and impressively didn't give up a goal and only allowed three shots.
But the rash of penalties did eventually bite the Ducks in the tail, when Cam Barker's power play goal with 10:59 left (with Corey Perry in the bin for hooking) essentially put the game out of reach. Chicago's final goal with 1:31 left was yet another Ducks game instance of you-don't-see-that-everyday, as Patrick Sharp was heading toward the empty net and was slashed from behind by Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, causing him to shoot it wide. Because he was on the breakaway toward an empty net, he was given the rare credit for a goal that never crossed the goal line.
For most of the game, the Ducks just never seemed to have the energy for anything besides retaliation, and took a loss they most certainly deserved. It was unfortunate it came on a night when Dallas lost at home to Phoenix, opening the door for Anaheim to climb to within two points in the division standings. Meanwhile, Ottawa decided to lay down in the final minutes at San Jose, giving up a Jonathan Cheechoo goal with 2:44 left and another to the Sharks in overtime. Suddenly, the Ducks are in fifth place in the Western Conference and third in the Pacific, a point behind a San Jose team that has played two fewer games than Anaheim and three fewer than Dallas.
The Ducks also missed another chance to tie their franchise record of seven straight wins, but with 11 victories in the last 13 games, it's hard to get too down after this one. And no one put that better than Selanne last night. "I think it was good that we got a little slap in the face," Selanne said. "We need to get back to the work we have to do. Things have been going very smoothly lately and this was a good wake-up call."
Here is some video (grabbed from the Hawks website) of other Ducks comments on last night, including Pronger, who you'll notice at the 3:15 mark flexes his still-stiff jaw a little bit.
So the Ducks have no choice but to turn the page to tonight's matchup at Colorado, a team the Ducks have beaten in all three matchups this season. But Colorado comes in tonight having won five in a row, boosted by the returns of Paul Stastny, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg (three players who weren't active when the Ducks beat Colorado at home Feb. 20). Forsberg, who sat out the first five months with a foot injury, played for the first time Tuesday. He logged just under 20 minutes in their victory over Vancouver.
The Avs are still missing wingers Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos, who were both hurt badly in a win last Saturday over the Kings. Svatos is probably out for the year with a torn ACL, while Smyth is out for awhile after suffering a concussion and a shoulder separation on a scary play, when he was checked into turnbuckle near the Avs bench by Kings defenseman Jack Johnson.
I can't say whether J.S. Giguere will get the start again for Anaheim, or if Jonas Hiller will get the nod. Well, it's not that I can't say. It's just that I don't know. And Randy Carlyle is notoriously close the vest about such things. We probably won't know until the warmup, which means that most Ducks fans won't know until the broadcast starts.
Speaking of Carlyle, congratulations are in order for him topping a list made by Yahoo! Sports columnist Ross McKeon of the job security for all 30 NHL coaches. It's yet another NHL ranking that has the Kings at the bottom.
Back to tonight's game, the Ducks are holding their first watch party at The District in Tustin for tonight's game, which I'm curious to hear about since it will be held outdoors and the game will be shown on a giant screen in front of the Borders bookstore. I won't be able to check it out tonight because I have been asked to be one of the judges for this "Anthem Idol" competition being held tonight at ESPN Zone. I can't wait for my first chance to tell someone it "sounded a little pitchy." Or maybe I should wear a black v-neck t-shirt and say something like, "Um...I hated it." That might work ... except for the v-neck.
Updated March 5 at 4:15 p.m.
It would appear that Chris Pronger is ready to go tonight, according to Dan Wood's blog on the O.C. Register website. He writes:
Winners of six consecutive games and 11 of their past 12, the Ducks figure to receive an additional boost Wednesday night with the anticipated return of defenseman Chris Pronger against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.
Pronger, who has sat out the previous two games because of a broken jaw, pronounced himself ready to play after having taken part in the morning skate.
“There’s always a risk, any time you’re out there,” Pronger said. “I’m not very concerned. I carry a very large stick -- and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Pronger suffered the injury Feb. 24 in a 6-3 victory over Chicago at Honda Center. Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp inadvertently struck Pronger in the face with the follow-through of a shot that produced a second-period goal.
Pronger, who needed nearly 70 stitches to repair cuts and a surgical incision, will wear a football-style faceguard attached to his helmet in an attempt to prevent any further damage to the area.
“The healing process is four to six weeks,” Pronger said. “I have a plate in there. That speeds it up a little bit, but not this fast.”
I like the line, "I carry a very large stick -- and I'm not afraid to use it." I think we've got an idea for a new t-shirt!
Thanks to reader Alisa for sending this.
Updated March 5 at 12:50 p.m.
When you think about where the Ducks were a few months ago, it's hard to believe the suddenly realistic goals the team has now, going into tonight's battle with Chicago. The Ducks are just four points behind Dallas for the lead in the Pacific Division, the winner of which will likely be seeded second in the Western Conference for the postseason. It's a staggering thought, considering that it wasn't that long ago we were wondering if this Ducks team would make the playoffs at all. Then again, that wasn't this Ducks team, which didn't have Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne and Doug Weight and was dealing with a number of early-season concerns.
As well as the Ducks have been playing over the last month, they could have been in an even better position in the race than they are now. Dallas has been equally hot, winning 13 of its last 16 in keeping the Ducks in its wake for the time being. Meanwhile, San Jose is lately making sure this thing isn't just a two-horse race. The Sharks bounced back in a major way from an 0-4-1 stretch by winning six in a row.
We'll see tonight if the Ducks are able to make up any ground. As much as you like their chances against a Chicago team they've historically had success against (including that 6-3 whitewashing at Honda Center on Feb. 24), no road game is easy in this league. Meanwhile, the Stars are playing at home against Phoenix, while San Jose plays Ottawa tonight, with Bryan Murray setting a personal goal tonight of lasting the entire game.
If the Ducks win tonight, it would be their first seven-game winning streak in nine years. It's hard to believe Anaheim didn't win at least that many in a row in the past couple of years, but you may remember they won 16 of 21 during a certain stretch in April, May and June last year. That's the most important hot streak.
It will be interesting to see who the Ducks put in goal tonight, considering they're playing back-to-backs, with Colorado one the horizon tomorrow night. If Randy Carlyle is looking to use his better goaltender against the better opponent, you'll see Hiller in there tonight, with Giguere saved for the Avs. Hiller has been the starter for two of the Ducks' three wins over the Hawks this year.
On the other side of the rink, the seemingly mentally unstable Patrick Lalime started and played well for Chicago last night in Minnesota. So, Corey Crawford (who gave up a goal in that brief appearance at Honda Center) would get the nod with Nikolai Khabibulin still out with back problems.
By the way, I was glad to see Giguere was the overall winner in an O.C. Register online poll asking who readers thought was the Ducks MVP so far this season. Jiggy got 62 percent of the vote while Ryan Getzlaf got 21% and Scott Niedermayer got 17%, though only playing 34 games so far.
Inspired by the link I had a few days ago to the ice girls around the NHL, reader Keriann emailed me these photos of Florida goalie Craig Anderson appearing to be slightly distracted by the ice girls during a timeout. The funny thing about these two photos is that they were obviously (based on the different jerseys) taken during two separate games this year, both at the Islanders. I of course did some research on this, and was surprised to find out that despite the temporary loss of focus, Anderson won both of these games. In fact, in one of them (which was just last Sunday) he had 53 saves in shutting out the Islanders. God bless you, Craig Anderson. Nothing can shake you, my man.
If you haven't seen it already, David Cook's revamped version of Lionel Ritchie's "Hello" on last night's "American Idol" was the only performance this season that I've found the need to rewind and watch again. Pretty unique stuff. Fast forward to the 40-second mark if you're not into the whole pre-performance fluff.
Updated March 4 at 4:10 p.m.
A couple of things I wanted to tack on about last night's game:
One is that Matthew Perry was in the house last night, rooting for the Senators since he was raised in Ottawa. Like his team, he wasn't exactly looking his best.
Finally, John Buccigross of ESPN.com did a running blog while watching the game on TV last night. This shows me I need to pick up my game a little bit when I'm doing the live game logs. Then again, his clearly wasn't live. He also comments on the will-it-please-go-away rumor of Brian Burke heading to Toronto.
Updated March 4 at 12:12 p.m.
How's this for a new way to market Ducks games? Come watch the Ducks at Honda Center...You might see something you've never seen before!
That has certainly been the case over the last three home games. First there was the Chicago game a week ago Sunday, where Patrick Lalime twice went after Todd Bertuzzi, the second time sparking a rare fight between a goalie and skater. Last Friday night Chris Pronger is out with an injury and the Ducks are short a head coach, so Pronger works behind the bench in a suit as an interim assistant.
And then there was last night, where fans were treated to a rarity in an NHL game, a coach getting ejected from the game. Bryan Murray, in just his third game since stepping down from his GM desk to his familiar spot behind the bench, gave the officials more than they were willing to take in that third period and was shown the door.
"I talked to the referees during the game and I took a bad penalty,"
That was the more apologetic quote Murray had. Then there was this: “I kept saying ‘That’s a (expletive) call. That’s a (expletive) call that you made.’” He said ‘Say it again and you’re gone.’ So I said it again.”
Very mature. Reminds me of this incident from a few years back.
Murray severely hurt his team even before the game misconduct, when he took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while jawing with the official after the high sticking all on Mike Fisher midway through the period. That penalty set the Ducks up on a 5-on-3 that almost inevitably led to Scott Niedermayer's goal off a nice feed from Mathieu Schneider. That was major insurance for the Ducks at a point in the game where Ottawa had been right on the doorstep on several occasions. But then again, the way J.S. Giguere looked last night (and for the entire last month, for that matter) maybe the insurance wasn't necessary.
Either way, that goal took the life out of the Sens, who looked relatively listless over the final 10 minutes and only managed two shots. And for the second straight game, the Ducks were ensured a man advantage over the final minutes, since Randy Robitaille took a slashing call with 4:20 left and made matters worse with his own unsportsmanlike conduct minor on top of it. The Sens somewhat erased the advantage when they pulled Gerber from the net with a minute left, but it wasn't enough.
Speaking of Gerber, I shouldn't neglect to mention he became the second opponent goalie to take a swing at a Ducks player in the last three games. I can understand goalies being sensitive to the way Ducks players typically crash the net on potential rebounds. But the manner in which Travis Moen ran into Gerber was relatively minor, and that punch he threw seemed -- what's the word for it? -- excessive. Of course, that scuffle (in which there were surprisingly no penalties called) for some reason prompted Murray's final (and I do mean final) meltdown of the night.
The Ducks of course were still not completely healthy last night, but it was great to see Todd Marchant and Doug Weight back, and both contributed significantly. Each tallied three shots on goal, while Weight had an assist and could have had a couple of others. The thought of him (with that incredible playmaking ability) playing on that line with Teemu Selanne and Chris Kunitz is enticing to say the least. I'm excited to see how that chemistry develops over these next few games. Speaking of that line, I thought Chris Kunitz looked phenomenal again last night, skating at a blazing pace for most of the game. I've said it before, but he has very quietly made a huge impact over the last couple of months.
I got a few emails last night and this morning asking why the Ducks were wearing their road whites last night. You might notice it wasn't the first time the Ducks have done that this season, as they also did it at home against San Jose and Buffalo. Brian Burke likes to have the Ducks wear their white jerseys at home about four or five times a year, just to mix it up and give the photographers a different look. Ottawa is playing at San Jose, L.A. and Phoenix on this road trip and will wear its reds for all of those games too, while those three home teams will wear their light jerseys. That way Ottawa only has to travel with one set of uniforms. As Burke told me this morning, the Ducks and those other Western Conference teams wanted to see Ottawa in their reds, so the request was made and Ottawa obliged. Get used to it, because Burke also said Montreal will be wearing their reds Sunday as well, as they did last night in San Jose.
The Ducks will of course be in those whites again with these two road tests on consecutive nights at Chicago and Colorado, for which the Ducks left this morning. Anaheim is just four points behind Dallas in the Pacific race as of this morning, with Dallas shockingly having played one more game than Anaheim. And the way the Ducks are playing right now, you have to like their chances over this next month, which includes two games against those Stars (in Dallas on March 19 and Anaheim on March 30).
Updated March 3 at 4:10 p.m.
A couple of things before we turn our attention to this game tonight, which I for one am very much looking forward to.
No matter what happens tonight, at least our website has something on the Sens site. Their poll question right now: Which high-profile player is most likely to be traded before the deadline?
Um, can I guess Sundin? Too bad the Sens people aren't running a sports gambling site.
If you're around my age or older, tell me this isn't a cool flashback to your youth, back when HBO was great because of its movies, not because of its series. I'm somewhat stealing this joke, but this reminds me of when I was a young boy, watching this intro and praying that after it was over, a giant "R" would pop up on the screen, with the smooth-voiced announcer calmly saying, "The following movie is rated R."
Updated March 3 at 11:41 a.m.
There is a ton to cover this morning, partly because the Ducks are playing the Senators tonight, partly because I was too lazy to write anything about that win Friday night and partly because I got emails over the weekend and this morning of a few good things to link.
Let's start with tomorrow night's episode of "American Idol." Just kidding. Let's start with tonight's game, and if you're not excited for this one, you're a tough one to please. In case you missed it, tonight marks the first time the Ducks and Sens play each other since a certain Game 5, a whole 271 days ago. And while the Ducks had their Stanley Cup hangover (I promise, the last time I use that expression) in October and November, the Sens appear to be having theirs now. To put it metaphorically, the Ducks woke up on a Saturday morning with a splitting headache, while the Sens woke up feeling fine. But they ended up feeling sick to their stomachs around 2 in the afternoon.
Who would have thought that after Ottawa looked nearly unbeatable after winning 15 of their first 17 of the year, they would end up pulling a New Jersey Devils Special by firing their head coach and putting the GM behind the bench. The difference from New Jersey was, that GM was Bryan Murray, who led Ottawa to the Final last year, and moved to the GM desk while handing the coaching reins to his former assistant, John Paddock. The Sens went 22-21-6 after that 17th game. The funny thing is, as the season began, the Stanley Cup champs didn't have Scott Niedermayer or Teemu Selanne and the runners-up didn't have their head coach. Just four months later, they're all back.
The move to fire Paddock and put Murray back in there was made a day after the Feb. 26 trade deadline, with the Sens having lost 5-0 and 4-0 on consecutive nights. In Murray's first game back, they lost again -- 3-1 to Philadelphia -- but came back with a 5-4 decision over the Penguins last Saturday. That win came a day after a February in which the Senators went a ghastly 4-7-2 and tumbled from the top spot in the Eastern Conference to fifth. But that spot is a bit misleading, as Ottawa is just a point behind East frontrunner Montreal, which comes to Honda Center on Sunday.
The Globe and Mail has a story on that coaching change, and Brian Burke's opinion on it in this story strangely entitled Ducks versus Duds?
So, who will the Ducks have available tonight? We know Randy Carlyle will be back, after he was at the morning skate and looked perfectly healthy as he spoke to the abnormally large media gathering. "I had a fever," he said, "and I had a close friend of mine that I couldn't get away from for a long period of time." I have to assume he meant the toilet/bucket. My co-worker had a funny thought Friday night about Carlyle being home sick. It's hard to envision the notably prickly Carlyle lying on the couch under an afghan, asking his wife if she'll please make him some chicken soup.
As far as the players go, don't count on Chris Pronger for tonight, as he was among three Ducks (Andrew Ebbett and Joe DiPenta being the others) to skate extra this morning. Pronger already told the press he won't be playing tonight.
Another guy who took a shot to the mouth, Rob Niedermayer, will definitely be in there tonight. After getting hit with a stick late in the third period Friday night, Niedermayer has a fat upper lip decorated with a few stitches. But he'll be ready to go.
The fact that Doug Weight and Todd Marchant were not among the stay-after-school Ducks on the ice this morning means they are likely to be in the lineup tonight. Weight told reporters yesterday, "I feel like I'm ready to go" and will probably play. Whether Marchant will be in there too remains to be seen. Carlyle would only indicate, as usual, that we'll know more after the warmup tonight.
This is kind of an odd stat, but tonight's game has a little more meaning for Anaheim, inconsequential as it may be. If they win tonight, the Ducks would become just the second team in NHL history to win the last 6 games of a homestand of 7 games or more after dropping the first game. The only other team in league history to lose the first game of a homestand of 7 or more games and then win the remaining games of that homestand was the 1972-73 Kings.
I just want to quickly comment on the last game in that homestand, Friday night's 3-1 victory over Calgary. It was fitting that game fell on Feb. 29, since that's a rare day on the calendar and it was a strange game for Anaheim. That's because Pronger was behind the bench in a suit, with Carlyle out with the flu. He was allowed back there since the Ducks were short a player as it was. This morning
Carlyle was asked about Pronger's coaching, and he said, "He'd have to take a major pay cut" if he wants to keep doing that.
It was yet another win for the Ducks in a game where the opponent tries to intimidate them physically, this time led by young defenseman Dion Phaneuf. With his antics, he was added to the list of public enemies (real and imagine) for Ducks fans, which now includes Paul Kariya, Dustin Penner, Patrick Lalime and Daniel Alfredsson (likely to get boos tonight after shooting the puck at Scott Niedermayer in last year's Final).
Despite the fact the Ducks got up very early in the game (a Mathieu Schneider goal just 35 seconds into it), they were hanging on for dear life most of the rest of the way. It wasn't until Teemu Selanne's 5-on-3 goal late in the third (a beautiful sequence in which Kunitz and Niedermayer appeared to be toying with the Flames before Kunitz made a nice touch-pass to Selanne) that the Ducks could breathe easy.
It was a heck of a way to finish an interesting February for Anaheim, which lost the first two games of the month before reeling off 10 wins in their last 11. And you can't give enough credit to J.S. Giguere over that stretch, as he has been nearly unbeatable the entire month. He went 8-1-1 record with a ridiculous 1.28 goals against average and a .949 save percentage. For a Ducks team that only scored more than three goals three times during that 11-game stretch, that was huge.
Nevertheless, Giguere somehow wasn't among the NHL Three Stars for the month of February. Instead, the one goalie on the list was Marty Turco, whose record, goals against and saver percentage were all inferior to Giguere's. Strange choice.
Okay, a few things to link to before I cut this thing off this morning. NHL.com has a feature on Corey Perry and his reputation as an "agitator." They got a nice quote from Penner in this one: "I'm noticing that Corey is getting back to the way he played in the AHL in the type of goals he is scoring,'' said Penner. "There are goal-scorers goals and greasy goals and Corey is the one who'll get those greasy goals. I watch video replay and ask myself, 'How does he do that?' If only I could have a few of those."
The always-fantastic Jeff Miller had a great feature over the weekend on Andrew Ebbett and the fact he's had to schlep between Anaheim and Portland a couple of times in the last week.
And then there is this video of Darwin Head of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, who won $1 million last week during the intermission of a game between the Canucks and Avs by shooting 15 pucks into an empty net from the far blue line in just 24 seconds. He also helped win a car for himself, two friends on the ice and a random stranger in the crowd. Funny how the 15th puck came within about three inches of deflecting off another puck and not going in the net. I actually got chills watching this thing.