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(All times Pacific unless otherwise noted.)
Updated February 28 at 10:42 a.m.
If there is a slogan for this year's Ducks team, it would have to be this:
The 2010-11 Anaheim Ducks: Nothing Comes Easy
First there is the fact that the Western Conference is so competitive -- right now you could argue that 12 of the 15 teams have legitimate playoff hopes -- that practically every night is a major test. That's a major reason that of Anaheim's 33 victories this year, 25 have been by two goals or less, eight of those in overtime or a shootout.
That's the way you have to win hockey games in the Wild West, and last night was yet another example of that -- this one more extreme than ever. The Ducks hung on for a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalance by the skin of their teeth, when a desperation, bad-angle shot out of the corner by Milan Hejduk with 0.8 seconds left beat goalie Dan Ellis, grazed the crossbar and clanged off the inside of the far post as time expired (tail end of this video).
It was a heart-stopping finish to a badly needed game for the Ducks, one that brought an untimely five-game losing skid to a screeching halt. For Ellis, it was his first victory in a Ducks uni since coming to the Ducks in a trade with Tampa last Thursday. And it came two nights after Ellis dropped his Anaheim debut 3-2 to Minnesota in overtime when he couldn't stop a second straight breakaway.
Ellis had a good take on what it takes to snap a losing streak like the Ducks', but it could have described what it takes for this team to win every night in this conference. "Any time a team goes through a difficult and a little bit of a slump, it’s always a gritty one that usually gets you out of it," Ellis said. "It’s not usually a blowout or a pretty one. The guys really mucked it out tonight."
Of that cardiac-inducing last play, Ellis admitted, "The last shot I didn’t see at all. I was down trying to cover everything low and on that post. All of a sudden the puck came out of nowhere and hit me on the side of the head. I heard it hit a post. I was just praying that it hit the right post. Thank God it stayed out."
There was undoubtedly some version of "Thank God" gasped after that shot by Ducks fans in Honda Center last night or watching on TV (analyst Brian Hayward let loose an "Oh my!" after it happened). And it wasn't the first time that the red-painted steel played a significant role in those tense final minutes. With less that three minutes remaining, Bobby Ryan took the puck from Ryan Getzlaf behind net and tried a beauty of a wraparound that beat goalie Peter Budaj and dinged the right-hand pipe. A goal there would have given the Ducks some rare cushion, but instead they had to grind out a win that literally came down to the last second (heck, half-second).
Of course, there was no bigger celebration -- and no bigger goal -- last night than the one late in the second period by Todd Marchant, who was positively elated when he finished a give-and-go with Luca Sbisa with a pretty one-handed tip-in.
It was the first goal in the last 70 games for Marchant, going back to March 17 of last year. "It’s certainly the longest of my career," he said of the scoring drought. "I’m not sure what it was prior to this, but it wasn’t anywhere near this. I didn’t let it get me down mentally."
Marchant also revealed something his young son, a kid we know a bit named Tim, told him the other day. "My son scored a goal the other day in his game and he said, 'Now it's your turn, Dad.' Everybody has been very supportive. Every guy in this locker room was pretty happy for me."
And more from quote machine Marchant: "I know I’ve got many other roles on this team besides scoring goals. If this team was counting on me scoring goals, we wouldn't have gone very far. That being said, I would have liked to have more than this first one tonght. The bottom line is it’s about wins this time of the year. It’s not about how many goals or assists I get. It’s about winning hockey games, getting into the playoffs and see how far it takes you."
The Ducks continue that quest two nights from now in a major test here against the Red Wings that kicks off what will undoubtedly be a crucial month of March. Today, the Ducks have the day off as we approach the noon Pacific trade deadline. So far, because of the deals that have already happened over the past couple weeks, Deadline Day has been a lot like last night's Oscars so far: You look forward to it for weeks, and ultimately nothing very exciting happens. We'll see if that changes in the next hour or so.
Updated February 25 at 12:14 p.m.
It's been discussed ad nauseum how quickly things can change in the Western Conference, but how about this one for the Anaheim Ducks -- who would have thought as recently as a week ago we'd be asking ourselves this question?:
I wonder who will start tonight -- Dan Ellis or Ray Emery?
Neither one of those guys were Anaheim Ducks before Emery was signed on February 8 to give the Ducks some goalie depth -- which they would ultimately need quickly when Jonas Hiller went down -- and Ellis was acquired via trade with the Lightning last night. But with Hiller still out with his balance issues and Curtis McElhinney in Tampa Bay, tonight's goalie will be a guy with at least 140 career NHL games, though none with the Ducks.
Randy Carlyle, of course, did not reveal who his starter will be tonight -- in fact, the local media who've been around the block a few times didn't even bother to ask this morning. But Ducks boss Bob Murray, who got a four-year extension today, indicated they would like Emery to get a little more time in before they put him back in an NHL game.
“He’s got to play some more,” Murray said of Emery, who hadn't played a game since February 1 after having hip surgery. He had three starts at AHL Syracuse before the Ducks recalled him on Wednesday. “I think it’s really unfair to put a whole bunch of huge expectations on him at the moment. I think what we have to do is stick with the game plan with him. He’s here now. He’s getting shots. He’s getting NHL shooters right now….he’s going to be here until obviously Jonas comes back, and then he’ll probably have to go play more games. Hopefully at the end of all this, we have three strong goaltenders and we’re ready to make a run.”
Speaking to Ducks media for the first time yesterday (here's some video), Emery said, "A year off will give you a bit of an edge as far as being hungry and really wanting to work at it. I’m getting better quickly but at the same time I’ve got to continue to do that. You can’t expect anybody to be at the top of their game after only having competed for 10 days or so. I’m getting better and that’s where I’m at right now.”
So, all signs tonight point to Ellis, who got into town yesterday evening and skated with the Ducks this morning, then spent some time with the press. "The trade caught me by surprise, but you just have to quickly adapt, reload mentally and emotionally, and get ready for the team you're playing for." Ellis said. "I've gotten a chance to get to know the guys and skate with them this morning. Sometimes it's better to just jump right in, let it go and get right out there." (We'll have video of Ellis later today.)
By the way, Ellis will wear uniform number 38, while Ray Emery has switched to 29. The last time the Ducks had a 29 on their roster, it was third goalie Sebastian Caron on the 2006-07 Stanley Cup champion team. (See, that's why you read this blog, for information like that.)
At the other end of the rink tonight, the Wild are reportedly going with Jose Theodore over Nicklas Backstrom after Backstrom was beaten by the Kings last night in LA. That moved the Kings to fifth in the West, four points ahead of the Ducks in 11th. Minnesota is two ahead of Anaheim in sixth.
Carlyle did announce that Saku Koivu will miss his second straight game with a sore groin, saying, "He's not any better, but he's not any worse." And it will be a completely Koivu-free evening at Honda Center, as Wild captain Mikko is out for three weeks with a broken finger suffered last Friday night against the Ducks in Minny. That game was the beginning of the rough two-game road stretch, as the Ducks fell 5-1.
Because of that, it's a little bit of payback in mind for the Ducks, not to mention a crucial time for a win after they've dropped four in a row and the top 8 in the West seemingly wins every night. And if two of them are playing each other, it's inevitably a three-point game.
The Wild have lost three in a row at Honda Center, but six of their (its?) past nine overall against the Ducks.
- - -
If you haven't seen it yet, check out George Parros' commercial for the Honda Civic GX, along with some behind-the-scenes stuff and outtakes. Good times.
Updated February 24 at 11:38 a.m.
Less than 12 hours after a disheartening 3-2 defeat to the Kings that marked the Ducks' fourth straight defeat, Anaheim made a move that reinforces their desire to climb back into the Western Conference playoff race. With the status of Jonas Hiller still up in the air, and Curtis McElhinney struggling over the past week, the Ducks sent McElhinney to Tampa Bay in exchance for veteran netminder Dan Elllis early this morning.
In the 30-year-old Ellis, the Ducks get a proven netminder who, accoring to Bob Murray this morning, has "carried a team at times, which is the most important thing for me. I thought we needed that right now."
Ellis was the No. 1 goalie in Tampa this year -- as he had been previously in Nashville -- before the Lightning acquired veteran Dwayne Roloson on New Year's Day. Ellis, talking to media via conference all this morning, talk about his current season thusly:
"The first part of the season didn’t go exactly the way we would have liked, as far as the goaltending tandem with [Mike Smith] and I. They picked up Dwayne [Roloson] right when we got things turned around a little bit, and he came in and provided instant stability, being a character and veteran person. He had some great games out there. I had a chance to almost take a step back and learn from him, which for me was one of the best things that could happen in my career. We also had a new goaltending coach who was teaching me a new goaltending system. That creates a lot of thinking, and you guys know that any thinking athlete is not a good one. When you’re thinking instead of reacting, usually you’re a little late for pucks."
But he said he was encouraged by his play over the last couple months, which included a .932 save percentage and two wins in his last three starts. "It’s the best I feel I’ve been playing all year," he said. "It’s an opportunity to get moved at a time where I feel like I’m on top of my game."
The move also offers some stability with Hiller's impending return still up in the air, though he did take some shots before practice this morning from a handful of Ducks. But according to Murray, he hasn't been officially cleared to practice yet. In his stead, McElhinney took a fourth straight defeat last night to LA at a sold-out Honda Center, though he and the rest of the Ducks looked much better than they had in the previous three.
The Ducks played a solid game, but the absence of Hiller, combined with the missing Ryan Getzlaf and Saku Koivu proved too much to overcome. Getzlaf was a last-minute scratch while attending to the birth of his first child, a boy named Ryder, while Koivu was also a late subtraction with a tweaked groin. (Getzlaf practiced today during the annual First Flight Field Trip, but Koivu did not.)
Their absences last night showed on the offensive end, notably in the third period when the Ducks could only manage a handful of shots in an attempt to tie the score after Willie Mitchell put the Kings ahead with a little more than 13 minutes left. At the other end, the Ducks performed admirably, allowing only 18 shots and just three in the third. But the one from Mitchell was a backbreaker.
"It was very disappointing," said Teemu Selanne, whose tip-in goal pulled the Ducks even in the first. "I think we played good enough to win the game. The goals matter. They got three and we got two. It was a better effort and that is what we have to build on. We have to stay positive."
Positive is the name of the game for the Ducks, who fell to 11th in the Western Conference standings, but still remain two points short of the fifth spot. (Boy, is it scoreboard-watching time over these last seven weeks.)
And who is in net here Friday against the Wild remains to be seen, as the Ducks now have a choice between Ellis and Ray Emery, who watched from the bench last night following his recall after three games in Syracuse.
Ellis, who arrives in Southern California this evening, says he's ready to go if called upon. "Anything I can do to benefit that team, I’m always willing to do," he said. "I’m a Duck now and my goal is to help that team make the playoffs. If they want me in the net tomorrow, I’ll jump right in and be very excited. If they need me to sit on the bench, I’ll do that and cheer on my squad."
Just a few minutes ago, Murray commented on the trade and other topics, including this: If we play with the passion and structure we played with last night," he said, "I think we’ll have a very good chance of making the playoffs. As a group, we lost it for a few days.
Updated February 23 at 12:39 p.m.
As if we didn't already have a firm grasp of the lunacy of the Western Conference playoff race, we're reminded of it as we look ahead to Ducks-Kings tonight.
One week ago at this time, we were licking our chops for Ducks-Capitals, a big game because a win would put the Ducks in the Pacific Division lead alone. Flash forward seven days and we're anticipating another big game tonight, but for much different reasons.
A Ducks-Kings game usually packs a wallop regardless of the circumstances, but this one tonight is even more intense. Anaheim's recent stumble -- combined with the fact that the rest of the Western contenders pretty much win every night -- has the club suddenly (and hopefully temporarily) on the outside looking in. The Ducks sit at 68 points, a total shared by three other teams (including tonight's opponent), which has the Ducks in ninth place for the time being. Meanwhile, Minnesota's fifth spot is just a tantalizing two points away, while Phoenix's eight-game winning streak has rapidly put some serious distance on the division lead. Even if the Coyotes should falter, San Jose is right on their heels on the strength of four straight wins, making division hopes even tougher for the likes of Anaheim, L.A. and Dallas (five straight losses).
So yeah, kind of a big one tonight and I've got to admit -- I want this one bad.
For the Ducks, it's serious redemption time, notably in net, where Curtis McElhinney will get the nod again while Jonas Hiller continues to recover. Ray Emery, meanwhile, got the call-up this morning from Syracuse after winning his second straight game for the Crunch and is going to be the backup tonight, according to Randy Carlyle. Part of the reason for Emery's recall was to get him some time with goaltending consultant Pete Peeters, who has worked with the Ducks' other netminders the past couple days after returning to Anaheim recently.
Hiller talked to media this morning for the first time since going back on injured reserve for what was then diagnosed as lightheadedness and fatigue. Today he indicated that he continues to work with specialists and acknowledged that his dizziness may be a case of vertigo.
"I'm getting some treatment and it seems definitely to work," Hiller said. "It's just going to take some time and it's not something where you can just switch a button and everything's good again. It's a little tough for me because I've been out a while and I wanted to come back as soon as possible. It's not something you can push.
I definitely feel better than a couple of days ago, but I don't feel like it's 100 percent. One of these days I'll be able to se how it goes on the ice ... The problem is that nothing really hurts. It's not like I have a headache and I can say, Well, my headache is less than the day before. It's just kind of like an uncomfortable feeling. I can't really say it's better or not as bad."
Meanwhile, Saku Koivu did not skate with the rest of the Ducks for the second straight day as he recovers from a tweaked groin, but he did skate briefly on his own and is a gametime decision, according to Carlyle.
And there's more: Ryan Getzlaf is questionable after his wife Paige went into labor with their first child last night.
The Kings, by the way, are playing the last of 10 straight road games tonight, thanks in part to a couple of little things called the Grammys and the NBA All-Star Game. Though they lost at the Islanders 3-0 on Saturday, they've looked good during that stretch with a 5-1-3 mark. Here's hoping the Ducks can spoil the end of that stretch in what promises to be a raucous Honda Center tonight.
Tonight is the first of four remaining games between the Ducks and Kings, the last two being a back-to-back home-and-home on the final two days of the regular season. The way this playoff race is going, something tells me those games are gonna mean something.
Updated February 21 at 12:48 p.m.
Throughout the course of an 82-game NHL season, it's impossible to remember every game, every big goal, every road trip. But something tells me that a month and a half from now, when the Ducks are either in or out of the postseason, we'll remember this past weekend.
Let's hope that we look back on it and laugh.
The Ducks took two tough losses they can ill afford in this tight playoff race, a 5-1 loss at Minnesota on Friday night and a 9-3 drubbing at St. Louis. Ironically, the Ducks looked good early in both of those weekend losses, getting on the board first in Minnesota on an early Corey Perry goal, and taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Jarkko Ruutu (in his Ducks debut) and Teemu Selanne in St. Louis. The 4-3 score at the end of one period against the Blues offered little indication of what was to come.
The Ducks team that lost those last two games during Hiller's second trip to the IR looked very little like the one that creeped to within a point of the Pacific Division lead just five days ago. And we were reminded once again how tight that division -- and the Western Conference -- really is during this (hopefully) brief stumble. Wednesday night against the Caps, the Ducks would have taken over the division lead alone with a victory. But that agonizing 7-6 loss at Honda Center, followed by those two rough defeats on the road, has the Ducks fifth in the division and now (technically) 10th in the Western Conference. Amazing.
It's technically 10th because the Ducks have 68 points, the same number as Minnesota (seventh), Dallas (eighth) and the Kings (ninth) but the Ducks lose the tiebreaker because they've played one more game than each of those squads. Meanwhile, they're still just two points short of the fifth spot.
That's what makes Wednesday's match with the Kings that much more crucial for Anaheim, and whether they'll have Jonas Hiller back for that one remains to be seen. There was some update on his condition, however, which heretofore had been diagnosed only as fatigue/lightheadedness. Hiller has now been determined to have a balance issue and is working with a physical therapist, his status listed as day-to-day, as he was eligible to come off IR today. He was not, however, on the Honda Center ice during a long Ducks practice this afternoon.
Updated February 17 at 3:32 p.m.
In case you haven't seen it already, the Ducks have picked up some serious sandpaper in the name of gritty winger Jarkko Ruutu in a trade with Ottawa in which Anaheim gave up a 2011 draft pick. Ruutu, in talking to media on the phone about the trade, described his game as, "play both ends of the ice, keep it simple, create energy, play physical on the ice...nothing fancy, but effective."
The 35-year-old Ruutu will join a Ducks team that has a few guys he played with on a number of Finnish national teams -- Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Toni Lydman -- including the last two medal-winning Olympic squads.
He's a veteran of 629 career NHL games with Vancouver, Pittsburgh and the Sens who will most likely fit on the third or fourth line with the Ducks (though that is of course yet to be determined). Along with his grit and energy, he has shown flashes of being able to put the puck int he net, as he had a career-high 12 goals for Ottawa last year.
Ruutu won't be able to join the Ducks until he clears up some immigration issues, so we'll keep you posted on that. We'll have a full transcript of his media conference call later today on the website. Bob Murray is in Europe and won't be able to speak with reporters today.
Late addition: Here's a song recorded about Ruutu during his time in Vancouver. Good luck getting this out of your head for the next eight hours. "He plays the game haaaaaaaaarrrrrrrd." And here's the story behind the song.
Updated February 17 at 12:56 p.m.
Ever seen the movie "Tin Cup"? Very entertaining for about two hours, then a brutal ending (dude hits like 17 balls in the water on the final hole of the U.S. Open).
That's kind of how I felt about last night's thrill ride with the Capitals at Honda Center, a game that ultimately finished with a disappointing 7-6 defeat and a missed opportunity for the Ducks. It was engaging, yes, but for all the wrong reasons, as the Ducks lost the lead four times in the game (including one two-goal cushion) and came away wondering how they scored six goals and still got zero points.
But with the way things have been going for the Ducks lately -- and as easily as they seemed to be able to find the net last night -- I feel like I'm still waiting for them to tie that game. When Alexander Semin scored his third goal of the game to put the Caps ahead with 1:47 left, it kind of felt like that was still plenty of time for the Ducks to get another goal. Heck, with the way that one was going last night, it was time enough for two or three.
Alas, the Ducks never did get the equalizer, even after pulling Curtis McElhinney on two different occasions in the final minute for an extra attacker. McElhinney, who was in there after Jonas Hiller was put on the IR for the second time, had what can be described as an off night. That was after he had some solid efforts during the first three games of Anaheim's four-game win streak on the road. And no one was harder on him than he was after the game.
"A better performance was needed from me tonight and it wasn’t there," he said. "It’s disheartening to let the boys down like that.
"The one I’m kicking myself about is the game-winning goal. I need to hold my post there and not pull off it. Those things happen sometimes."
Indeed, Semin's backhand from near the right post was a shot McElhinney should, and usually does, stop. But it was just the latest goal on a night that had a boatload of them -- some prettier than others.
The pretty (in order of appearance):
- Alex Ovechkin's breakaway puncuated with a wicked wrister while falling to the ice (opponent or not, you have to admit that was nice).
- Saku Koivu's gorgeous stick-handle around two Washington defenders before unleashing a shot from the slot that Teemu Selanne tipped in.
- Luca Sbisa's patiently awaited, pinpoint stretch pass to Corey Perry, who waltzed around Ovechkin before slinging a shot five hole.
- The tic-tac-toe between the RPG line, finishing with Bobby Ryan's one-timer off a Ryan Getzlaf touch pass, with Ryan jumping off the glass to celebrate a goal that gave the Ducks their last lead in the third.
- Teemu Selanne's shocking giveaway up the middle that turned into an easy goal for Brooks Laich.
- David Steckel's second-period tally that went in off the inside of his skate.
- Lubomir Visnovsky's seemingly innocent toss on net that went of Nicklas Backstrom's stick and fluttered past Michal Neuvirth.
- And of course, there was Semin's little backhander late in the game that wasn't so much ugly as it was stomach-churning for the home fans.
The entertainment factor, not surprisingly, was lost on the Ducks, who were left shaking their heads in a noticeably somber postgame locker room.
"We’ve been playing well lately and have been able to beat some good teams on the road. There is no reason why we should come back in our building and put on an effort like that," said Cam Fowler, who was among the Ducks defensemen to have a rough night. "There is no excuse. We are in a big part of the season here. All these points matter and you can’t put that kind of effort out there. I don’t think anybody in this room is happy with how they played."
And Randy Carlyle: "I’m terribly disappointed in our hockey game tonight. It seemed like we lost all of our focus on the things that we’ve done in the previous three weeks or a month. It was one of those games where we didn’t do enough things right, other than score six goals. When you score six goals, you should win a hockey game. That is for sure."
That would seem especially true against a Washington team that had scored only three goals in three consecutive losses coming into the game, all against Pacific Division teams.
And oh, that Pacific Division, whose top spot was up for grabs for the Ducks alone after Dallas went down in Calgary, 4-2. But the loss meant the Ducks remain a point behind Phoenix, while tied with San Jose and Dallas with 68 points. The Kings meanwhile, are last in the division while only two points behind the top spot. Here's what the picture looks like right now:
Wait, that's not it. Here's what that picture looks like right now:
To put that in perspective, the difference between first place and last place in any of the other five divisions is no fewer than 13 points. In the Northwest, the chasm between frontrunning Vancouver and cellar-dwelling Edmonton? Forty-one points.
So that's the kind of thing that makes it even tougher to swallow that the Ducks came away from that one with no points. And now all they can do is try to squash it as they move on to back-to-back road games at Minnesota (tomorrow) and at St. Louis (Saturday).
And leave it to the 19-year-old to pretty much articulate what the whole team is thinking. "We have to dig deep as a group here and try to get back after it," Fowler said. "For me personally, I’ll go to bed tonight and never think about it again. There is not too much to learn in a positive way from a game like this. A lot of bad things happened. It’s not something to dwell on. Points are important right now and unfortunately we came up short tonight. We have to keep on moving forward here and just try to forget about this one."
Updated February 16 at 12:14 p.m.
It's not just your everyday Wednesday night home game for the Ducks tonight. In a number of ways, this one carries just a little more intrigue than most:
- It's Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals (maybe you saw them on HBO recently), a team that hasn't been in this arena since November of 2008. (I got an idea of just how long ago that was when I looked for photos from that game to use for the home page of the website this morning. Among the shots were those of Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Bobby Ryan wearing 54, George Parros fighting Donald Brashear and Jonas Hiller wearing a mask with actual colors on it.)
- It's the first home game for Ryan Getzlaf since -- get this -- December 12. Getzlaf got injured at the end of a long road trip, December 28 vs. Phoenix, and didn't return until last week vs. Vancouver.
- It's the first home game at Honda Center for Francois Beauchemin since 2009, since Beauchemin came to the Ducks in that trade with Toronto last week and so far has played at Calgary and at Edmonton.
- It's just a pit stop at Honda Center sandwiched in between six road games for the Ducks, who play at Minnesota and St. Louis this weekend.
- It's a chance for the Ducks to ... wait for it ... take over first place in the Pacific Division if they win. (Dallas would tie them in points and games played if they win tonight at Calgary, but the Ducks would own the tiebreaker by having one more win.)
Unfortunately, tonight's game became even more unique when it was learned this morning that Jonas Hiller will not be in net tonight, nor will he be in there for the next two games after that. Hiller came down with a recurrence of fatigue/lightheadedness during practice yesterday and left the ice early. He was placed on injured reserve and Timo Pielmeier was recalled. Curtis McElhinney will be in net for the Ducks tonight (and ironically enough, the OC Register's Jeff Miller has a good feature on McElhinney's life as a backup in today's edition).
So the Ducks will again have to make due without Hiller, something they were able to do quite well in reeling off three straight wins on that road trip with McElhinney in net, and then only requiring Hiller to make 12 saves at Edmonton on Sunday in his brief return.
Tonight's opponent, the Caps, have their own key figure out tonight, as defenseman Mike Green will miss his second straight game with an inner-ear trauma. Green was struck in the head by a puck Feb. 6 against Pittsburgh and is scheduled to see a specialist here this afternoon.
Washington is looking to snap a three-game losing streak (all to Pacific Division teams) that is just the latest trevail in a season that hasn't quite lived up to expectations after they won the President's Trophy last year (they bowed out in the first round of the playoffs though). After leading the league in scoring last year, they're just 20th right now (2.64 goals per game) and their formerly top-ranked power play is 24th percentage-wise. (The Ducks, by the way, are third.)
Anaheim, of course, knocked off the Caps in their previous meeting this year, with Ryan Getzlaf scoring the OT winner to hand Washington its seventh straight loss (a game depicted on "24/7").
All of it makes for a pretty captivating game tonight in Anaheim. Get it? Captivating? No? Nevermind.
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Bobby Ryan, who reported a flat tire outside of an Olive Garden on his Twitter today, posted his latest entry in his USA Today blog yesterday. Among the good stuff was this comment about Cam Fowler:
I asked him once what it was like going from being an 18-year-old living in Windsor, Ontario, with a billet family riding the bus all the time, to an NHL player, living with Scott Niedermayer, arguably the greatest defenseman ever to play the game. His answer was a bit of a wide-eyed "surreal." I laughed and wondered where he learned that word. It seemed big for him!
And on No. 8:
One of the cool stats we learned about recently was that after Teemu Selanne had been given credit for the game-winner in Edmonton, it was his 100th career game-winning goal. I didn't realize how special that was until I thought about it a little bit on the plane ride home. Obviously, we see a lot of records broken playing with him, but I do think this is the coolest one yet. It's tough to think this guy is 40 years old and still getting better. We might even have to convince him to find one more year for us!
Updated February 14 at 10:04 a.m.
I don't know if you've noticed, but it's a pretty fun time to be an Anaheim Ducks fan right now.
Anaheim's 4-0 rout of the struggling Edmonton Oilers yesterday evening was the sixth straight win on the road, just one short of the club record and equaling the third-longest streak in the league this season. Overall, it was the eighth win in the last 10, catapulting the Ducks to a tie for the top spot in the Pacific Division, a peak that seemed virtually unreachable as recently as a few weeks ago (granted, they've played one more game than first-place neighbor Dallas.)
Last night's victory polished off a road rampage through Colorado, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton in which the Ducks outscored their opponents 16-7. In the first three of those, Curtis McElhinney earned victories in net, but last night the Ducks welcomed back Jonas Hiller after a prolonged bout with fatigue/lightheadedness. And if the Ducks wanted to ease Hiller into his first game back in a week and a half ... well, they might have gone a little overboard.
Anaheim allowed the Oilers just 12 shots (that's right, 12) on net the entire game, one short of the club record set in 2004 and the fewest the Ducks have ever allowed in a shutout. "Shot-wise it might have been one of the easiest shutouts of my career," Hiller said (he now has 11 in his career). "But not getting a whole lot of shots, does sometimes make it tougher to stay focused. They did have a couple of chances. There were a couple of odd-man rushes, and things like that, so it wasn't an easy night, but it wasn't a whole lot of work."
Teemu Selanne's tip-in goal off a Jason Blake feed (how good is the Selanne-Koivu-Blake line looking?) just 34 seconds into the game was all the Ducks would need. And though it was hardly your traditional game-winning goal, it was the 100th of Selanne's career, as he continues to pass milestones with a lot of zeros on the end of them.
Of course, Selanne's goal two nights prior in Calgary wasn't the game-winner, but it was leaps and bounds more dramatic, as it tied the game 4-4 with just a little over two minutes remaining. With the Ducks on a two-man advantage thanks to a power play and a pulled goalie, Selanne carved out a place in front of the net and one-timed a Ryan Getzlaf feed off the twine.
(He's 40 years old, folks. Forty. Years. Old.)
That set the table for Cam Fowler to endear himself to Ducks fans yet again, this time with just 18.6 left in overtime. Fowler put his skating and hands on full display, taking a puck on the left wing, fooling Jay Bouwmeester with a move to the backhand and flipping it past Miikka Kiprusoff. And just as thrilling as the goal was Fowler's euphoric celebration, as he went to a knee before looking to the ceiling and feverishly pumping his fist as teammates mobbed him.
"This kid," Brian Hayward said on the telecast, "is special."
And how's this for special? That goal made Fowler the second-youngest defenseman to score a regular season overtime goal since the NHL introduced the five-minute overtime period in 1983.
And his goal was the signature moment of a perfect road swing that marked just the third time in franchise history the Ducks won every game of a road trip of four games or more. The other times were in October of 2008 and, ironically enough, November of 1993, just the second month of the franchise's existence. (To put that in perspective, the fourth team they beat on that trip was Winnipeg, who had a second-year guy named Teemu Selanne on their roster.)
As good as the Ducks have been on the road, they won't see it a heck of a lot (which is okay, because they've been pretty damn good at home too). Starting with Wednesday's highly anticipated affair with Washington, the Ducks play eight of their next 10 games at Honda Center.
The latest edition of George Parros' blog on the LA Times website has some pretty poignant stuff. Some highlights:
- - -
- - -
- Believe it or not, I really enjoy the snow, cold weather and the winter atmosphere. However, it’s also nice not to have to start my car an hour early to let it warm up, or shovel my driveway every day.
Although there is a lot of snow on the ground here in Edmonton (we just checked into our hotel), it’s not as cold as our last trip here when my moustache had icicles hanging off of it during a walk to Tim Horton's for a bagel and hot chocolate.
- I'm not going to lie, it was nice to have [Ryan Getzlaf] back in the lineup, although I assured him that his return wasn't necessarily a great thing since we were doing just fine without him (10-4-0).
He didn't like that so much.
- In all seriousness, your Anaheim Ducks are playing with a dangerous amount of confidence right now and having Getzy back is a major part of that.
Updated February 11 at 12:49 p.m.
When the Ducks take on the Flames about five hours from now in Calgary, they'll be doing something pretty unique to this season. No, I'm not talking about the fact Francois Beauchemin will be in the lineup for the first time since coming over in a trade with Toronto on Wednesday.
For just the third time this season, the Ducks will be be playing an opponent who has played more games than they have, as the Flames have 56 to the Anaheim's 55. Both previous times it was the Blackhawks, the last being way back on November 26.
It's a reflection of how finally (finally) the Western Conference standings have started to settle to the point where the Ducks have no longer played more games (at times it was significantly more) than the other 14 teams. And it gives us a much better idea of where Anaheim really stands in the playoff race. The Ducks' 64 points has them seventh in the West behind Phoenix and Nashville's 65, though Anaheim has (get this) a game in hand on the Coyotes. Meanwhile, the Ducks are just two points behind the Stars (just one fewer game played than the Ducks) and the Sharks (same number of games played) in the third and fourth spots. Dallas has held onto the Pacific Division lead for most of the season, but they've suddenly gone cold, having dropped four in a row and six of the last seven.
All that, and the fact that Calgary is just one point behind the Ducks in the eighth spot, makes this one tonight another biggie.
The fact the Flames currently reside in playoff position is remarkable when you consider on December 27 they were second-to-last in the West with a 15-18-3 record. But they've gone 12-3-4 since GM Darryl Sutter was let go on December 28, and they've earned at least one point in nine straight games.
One team in the West who is almost as hot is the quack, looking for their third straight win and seventh in the last nine. Of course, all but one of those wins (Wednesday night's monster victory at Vancouver) were without Ryan Getzlaf, and all of them were without Beauchemin, both of whom are suiting up tonight. Randy Carlyle did not indicate with whom Beauchemin would be paired, but he did tell the OC Register, "We think that there’s an opoorunity for him to possibly play with a Cam Fowler at some point,” Carlyle said. ”We think that having that veteran presence beside Cam would be another strong asset to his development into an everyday NHL player.”
Beauchemin of course played most of the time during his previous run in Anaheim with Fowler's landlord.
Jonas Hiller, meanwhile, has been activated off injured reserve after coming back from fatigue/lightheadedness, but it remains to be seen whether he'll get the start or Curtis McElhinney will go against his old mates.
Despite knocking off the NHL's best team two nights ago, Carlyle told a gathering of media today that he thought his team "didn’t play a real great hockey game." He added, "We were sloppy with the puck and we didn’t do a lot of things that we’ve been doing at a higher level
“Tonight we’re going to have to be better than we were in Vancouver, that’s for sure.”
Updated February 10 at 11:58 a.m.
Two months from now, when/if the Ducks are a playoff team, we may look back at February 9 as the most important day of their season. In the morning, the Ducks made a vital addition to their defense by trading for Francois Beauchemin. That night, they knocked off the league's best team in their own rink, a place they simply don't lose in.
Beauchemin wasn't with the Ducks last night when they roared to a 4-3 victory over a Canucks juggernaut that simply hasn't done a lot of losing this season. Check this:
- Coming into last night, the Canucks had lost only three times in regulation in their last 34 games (25-3-6) and had not lost at home in regulation in 15 straight (11-0-4).
- They had a 6-game win streak overall and 9-game standings point streak (6-0-3). Their last regulation loss was Jan. 16 at Minnesota and their last regulation loss at home was Dec. 5 vs. St. Louis.
Granted, Vancouver had been doing a lot of that winning with their No. 1 guy, Roberto Luongo, in net, and he had the night off last night. But they had a very good backup in Cory Schneider in there (9-3-2 this season), while the Ducks again went with their backup, Curtis McElhinney, while Jonas Hiller continues to recover from fatigue and lightheadedness.
McElhinney (35 saves) had another solid outing, but last night was all about the return of Ryan Getzlaf, who was in the lineup for the first time since December 28 and made his presence felt in a big way. That was never more evident than in the second period on a typical Getzlaf move in which the entire arena thought he would shoot, but instead he made a spinning backhand pass to Bobby Ryan, who punched it into the open net.
“I think I was the only one in the building that knew that one was coming,” Ryan said. “He seemed to know exactly where I was. Obviously that’s why he’s one of the best playmakers in the league.”
That goal had the Rogers Arena crowd virtually speechless, as it put the Anaheim up 3-0. But it wouldn't be a Ducks game if it didn't come down to the wire, and this one was no different. Daniel Sedin made it 3-1 Ducks with a power play goal later in the period (no biggie, I remember thinking), then Alex Burrows made it 3-2 with a goal 5:42 into the third (uh oh).
But it was just 30 seconds after that when Ryan countered with unquestionably the biggest goal of the night, getting a pass from Teemu Selanne on the rush and pushing it under Schneider to give the Ducks their two-goal lead back. (By the way, it's hard to see it on the video, but one Duck made a huge steal from behind on Christian Ehrhoff to start that rush. And who was that Duck? Ryan Getzlaf.)
"It was huge to respond after our line had just been scored on and Burrows pulled them within a goal," Ryan said. "You can respond one of two ways. You can cower and play a tight defensive game or you can go on the attack."
The Ducks carried that two-goal lead almost to the final horn. Almost.
Ryan Kesler scored with 20.2 seconds left to make it 4-3, and things got even more exciting (and by exciting, I mean the way airplane turbulence is exciting) when Daniel Sedin whiffed on a bouncing puck right in front of the Anaheim net with about two seconds left (very end of this video).
"We have a tendency," Randy Carlyle said, "to keep things exciting right to the end."
Hairy ending or not, it was an incredibly satisfying victory (12th in the last 16) that only further demonstrated what we've seen in the Ducks the past couple of months -- that they feel like they can beat anyone in this league.
"It’s a great hockey team with the firepower they have over there,” said Jason Blake, who scored the game's first goal just 56 seconds into it. “I think we’re a good hockey team too. We’ve got a good thing going.”
Updated February 9 at 10:59 a.m.
By now you're probably well aware: Ducks acquire defenseman Francois Beauchemin from Toronto for winger Joffrey Lupul, defenseman prospect Jake Gardiner and a conditional fourth round draft pick in 2013.
It's a great deal for the Ducks in getting back a reliable, hard-nosed, puck-moving defenseman, a good character guy and a big part of their '07 Stanley Cup team. And yes, it's tough to say goodbye to Lupul, who fought hard to come back from a career-threatening injury in his second go-round with the Ducks, not to mention Gardiner, who is a promising prospect on the blue line.
But here's also why this deal makes sense for Anaheim:
As much as the defense has improved in the last few months, it's still a need for the Ducks if they want to stay in the playoff race and advance if/when they get there. Bob Murray has been steadfastly working this deal ever since Anaheim got back into the playoff picture, where they are today -- seventh in the Western Conference with 28 games left. While losing a promising defensive prospect like Gardiner isn't easy, he's not going to help the Ducks win today (he's still in school at Wisconsin). And youth on the blue line is in good supply with the emergence of Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa this season, and the emergence of 20-year-old Justin Schultz, currently a sophomore and the leading scorer on that same Wisconsin team.
Meanwhile, there are salary implications to this deal. Beauchemin makes $3.55 million this year and $3.65 million next year (when he contract runs out). Lupul makes $4.25 million over the next three years (one more year than Beauchemin), so the Ducks save a significant amount of money and cap space. In Lupul's last year (2012-13), had he still been in Anaheim, the Ducks would have been paying four forwards at least $4 million per year. This deal helps ensure the Ducks can keep Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan together for the long haul.
Beauchemin, by the way, is flying to Vancouver tonight, where he won't play against the Canucks, but will practice with the team tomorrow with plans to play Friday night at Calgary.
Said Murray on a media conference call that just ended a few minutes ago: "We're in a position to make the playoffs and we really felt we had to help out our defense to help that along. Joffrey has worked his butt off to get back in the lineup, but it was just an area where we felt we we're deep enough at forward. He was playing third line here and he'll play on the second line or higher in Toronto. We wanted to help the defense.
Also: "This is the kind of deal that works for both teams. We gave them a good young prospect, but we feel we're very deep with young defensemen. Randy [Carlyle] and I know Beauch and we're very confident in his ability. We know what we're getting here and know how he's going to play."
As for the conditional draft pick, if Lupul is on the Leafs' roster for 40 or more games during the 2012-13, Toronto gets Anaheim's fourth-round pick in 2013. If he's not on the roster for 40 or more games, Toronto gets a sixth-rounder.
With Beauchemin now in the mix, the Ducks are carrying nine defensemen, so we can expect something to happen within the coming days. And in case in the year and a half he's been gone you've forgotten about Beauchemin, there is this ... and this.
Welcome back, Frankie.
Updated February 8 at 2:14 p.m.
Once a year, for the past three or four years, I've gone and spoken to kids at an elementary school in south Orange County where a longtime friend of the family was the assistant principal. A couple of weeks ago, I did it again, but this time at Oak Grove Elementary in Aliso Viejo, where she is now the principal. And it was my largest audience yet, as more than 280 fourth- and fifth-graders piled into the multipurpose room to listen to me talk about what it's like to work for the Ducks. I usually pepper those speeches with quick trivia questions for the kids, handing out foam Ducks pucks to the ones who get them right. (Try choosing one kid from among dozens of raised and waving hands -- it's not easy.)
The highlight of those speeches -- aside from having the rapt attention of almost 300 kids -- is inevitably the thank-you notes from the kids that hit my mailbox a few days later. That large envelope came late last week, and I just finished reading every single one of them.
A quick aside: One of the classroom's teachers, a Mr. Elliott, made it known that he was a huge Kings fan, and even went so far as to wear a Kings jersey during my speech. In turn, when I showed off my Stanley Cup ring to the kids, I made sure to point out that the Ducks have won one Stanley Cup and the Kings have won zero. But Mr. Elliott got the last laugh, as every one of the thank-you cards from his kids were either purple or grey and either had a Kings logo drawn on them or said "Kings rule!"
Here are a few other highlights (with my comments):
What will happen if all of the substitute writers and you get sick at the same time?
(This was a common question during my speech. They also asked what would happen it the coach got sick. For some reason, these kids were obsessed with health.)
Oh yeah, you made Mr. Eliott cry like a baby.
(I'm not sure this was true.)
You must be a very talented writer, otherwise you would not have the job of being a bloger for the Ducks.
(Oh, you'd be surprised.)
Everybody listened after you handed out your first puck.
(But not until then.)
Do you get lots of money for your job? And do you have to pay to go inside a Ducks game?
(Does the latter require the former?)
Who is the best player who plays with the Ducks? Did you ever play for the Ducks? What was the toughest team that the Ducks played? Where are the ducks going to play next? How many people watch the Ducks play? How long was your longest play for the Ducks? What was your favorite team? have you and the Ducks won the biggest trophy? When it is winter, is it cold in the hockey game?
(This was all one letter.)
(How did he know I use a Dell?)
This may be a weird question, but I wanted to know, how much money you get paid?
(Not weird at all.)
I think you should give our teacher, Mrs. Cooper, tickets to a game.
(I got this from about a half dozen kids.)
I kinda want to grow up like you, but I want to be an NBA player.
(Well, that's pretty much the same thing.)
I didn't learn anyting because I left right when you came in the room. When I was in there, I liked how you moved around and asked questions.
The Ducks poster in our classroom has Todd Marchant holding the Stanley Cup. That sucker is huge! (I'm talking about the Cup, not Todd.)
(Spit out my coffee when I read this.)
Can the press box be lowered so you can see the game better?
(Let me look into that.)
My name is Julia Lawson, but you can call me Julia Awesome.
I enjoy skating. It is one of my favorite hobbies besides marksmanship.
(Too afraid to say anything.)
What do you do when there is no game?
(I've been asking myself the very same question for years.)
I'm not sure if you consider writing a sport like I do.
(Well, I do sometimes sweat when I do it.)
Many people have told me that I ask lots of questions and I am a loudmouth.
(Checking to see if this might be my son.)
Who is the rudest Ducks player?
You are a really funny and cool guy.
You inspired me to follow my dreams, and if you love something, never give up on it.
(I have nothing funny to say about this one.)
Updated February 7 at 9:58 a.m.
By now, our memory of a fulfilling win in Colorado on Saturday afternoon has been concealed a bit by a little something called the Super Bowl and this morning's signing of goaltender Ray Emery. So, we'll get into that first (not the Super Bowl.)
The signing of Emery, which there was speculation of the past few days, is for now a depth move by the Ducks, who are bringing in the 28-year-old free agent as a third goalie. In other words, if Emery clears waivers by 9 a.m. Pacific tomorrow morning, he will be sent to Syracuse. Veteran depth at goalie is a need for the Ducks, one that has become even more conspicuous as Jonas Hiller has been held out with fatigue issues, which forced the Ducks to recall young Timo Pielmeier over the weekend. (Pielmeier, by the way, was yesterday sent to Elmira of the ECHL, to get some playing time while the Jackals are in Vegas. It also keeps him on the West Coast should he be needed in Anaheim in the coming days.)
Emery, you'll remember, faced the Ducks with the Senators in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final (he played a major role in leading them there). Since then he spent some time with Mytischi of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, and he signed with the Flyers prior to last season, putting up respectable numbers in 29 games before going down with a hip injury that required surgery. That kept him out the duration of the season, and he hasn't suited up at all so far this season.
Said Bob Murray in a statement: "He’s worked hard to get back into shape and we are looking forward to seeing what he can do.” Murray will have more when he talks to media during practice later this morning.
So how do you segue from Ray Emery to Corey Perry? How about that Emery was in net when Perry scored the final goal of the 2007 Final, in Game 5 at Honda Center? And as we saw two days ago, he's still scoring ... a lot.
Perry had his second hat trick of the season in a 3-0 takedown of the Avalance in Colorado on Saturday afternoon, a win that was helped in part by Curtis McElhinney's second career shutout.
The prettiest of Perry's trio came in the second, seconds after Perry almost set up Bobby Ryan with a nice cross-ice feed. Having gotten the puck back, Perry undressed Avs winger TJ Galiardi on the low right wing, then cut to the net and roofed a backhand.
"Corey Perry," John Ahlers says on the video highlight, "does it again," something that applied to Perry in that game and this season. (The three goals gave him 28 on the year, tied for fourth in the NHL.)
Perry's third, an empty netter, was as much about him as it was teammate Todd Marchant. After Marchant skated the puck out of trouble with about 20 seconds left in the game, he could have tried to bank the puck off the wall toward the abandoned net. Instead, he found Perry at center ice, and Perry was right on target from on top of the red line.
"It was unselfish, and that's what our team's all about," Perry said of Marchant's play. "That's how we're continuing our success."
The Ducks came back to Anaheim after that game (going from temperatures in the 20s in Denver to 70s in Orange County) where they will practice before heading to Vancouver for a game with the conference frontrunning Canucks on Wednesday night. That time between games will also hopefully give Hiller some time to recover.
On Saturday in Denver, Hiller told the OC Register that he was, "a little worn down, a little lightheaded. "It's weird. I don't know. It doesn't seem right. I was hoping it would get better from one day to the next but it didn't happen, so unfortunately I hope it's going to be good soon. All I can do is get my rest and we'll see what happens."
Updated February 3 at 12:37 p.m.
It's hard to find the silver lining in any loss, let alone one to your division rivals. But it was encouraging last night to see the heart and fight the Ducks showed after digging themselves an early hole in what ended up being a gripping 4-3 loss to the Sharks at Honda Center. And in the category of What Might Have Been, it was tantalizing to think how things could have turned out if Dan Sexton had found the net on a partial breakaway barely two minutes after the Ducks pulled within a goal in the third (more on that later).
The Ducks' first efforts out of the All-Star break could hardly have gone worse, as they gave up a goal just 14 seconds into the game, and two more unanswered within the first 11:15. Jonas Hiller, so unbelievably valuable to the Ducks this season and during a run of 10 wins in 13 games going into the break, was not sharp last night. "I didn't feel as good as I wish I would have," Hiller said. "There are days you feel better. There are days you feel not as good. Today was one I didn't feel that well."
The second-effort goal he gave up to Dany Heatley was excusable but tough to take because it came to early. Subsequent goals by Ben Eager (wrist shot from the high left wing) and Jason Demers (slap shot from the point that skidded along the ice and may have been deflected) were very un-Hiller-like. And Randy Carlyle had little choice but to pull him for Curtis McElhinney, who played admirably in giving up just a second period PP goal to Ryane Clowe.
That goal was jam-packed in the middle of Anaheim's valient comeback attempt in the second, when Joffrey Lupul got a long-awaited goal in more ways than one. His snap from the inner edge of the right wing circle (props to Sexton for stretching to stay onside) finally cut into the lead, and it was Lupul's first goal since December 28 -- part of the reason Lupul looked so fired up after it went through.
But that celebration was nothing compared to Cam Fowler's after he punched in a rebound on the power play to make it 4-2. Fowler, who seconds earlier had been denied on two straight slap shots and a short backhander, chipped the puck into the open half of the net, then went sprinting away from the scene, sliding on one knee before throwing an undercut fist pump. Fowler had his dad Perry in the crowd (part of the fathers trip that kicks off today) who said today at practice that even Cam admitted he was a little more pumped up than normal after that goal. (We'll have a feature on the dads on the website later today.)
Bobby Ryan whipped a jaw-dropping wrist shot top shelf after seemingly looking to pass the puck off then turning to the net at the last instant 5 1/2 minutes into the third, and suddenly we had a hockey game. Not long after, Sexton nearly blew the roof off the place, speeding around Dan Boyle (Dan Boyle!) on the wing, then cutting to the backhand in front of Antti Niemi, who made a huge save with the shoulder. From that point, a Ducks power play in the middle of the period and a nice job by Niemi to rob Ryan on the doorstep were the Ducks' biggest threats to tie it.
And what we were left with was a tough loss that ... well, Fowler put it best: "You can't win a lot of games when you're down 3-0 within the first 10-12 minutes. I'm not sure if we were a little rusty after the break, but there are no excuses. We can't have a start like that.
"Our guys did a good job of battling back, but it just wasn't enough."
Updated February 2 at 1:15 p.m.
As I arrived to work this morning following a harrowing trip back from Raleigh through snowy Chicago (see below) I saw a comforting scene outside the southeast entrance to Honda Center. Teemu Selanne stood outside in the strong winds signing autographs for the dozen or so fans who had gathered out front.
Teemu joined me as I walked in the building and headed downstairs in the elevator and I shared with him the scary turbulence we endured from Chicago to Vegas yesterday -- turbulence being something he is notoriously skittish about. It felt like forever since I'd seen Teemu, probably because it has been. Well, not in person at least.
Thanks to a week-long road trip followed by the the All-Star break, the Ducks haven't played here in Anaheim since the middle of January -- a time so far back that we didn't even know who was playing in the Super Bowl. That's why tonight's game at Honda Center with the rival Sharks -- a matchup that rarely disappoints -- is going to be a beautiful sight.
I'm not a huge believer in momentum, but if you are, the All-Star break came at an inopportune time for the Ducks, who are on a run of 10 wins in the last 13 games. That includes an impressive three of four on that last road trip, with wins over Ottawa, Montreal and Columbus.
Tonight we see if they've still got it going, against a Sharks team that was just as hot going into the break, putting together a little 4-0-1 stretch that followed a six-game losing skid. That includes a stunning comeback last night at home against Phoenix, in which San Jose scored five unanswered on Ilya Bryzgalov to erase a 3-0 deficit and win 5-3. (Three-goal comebacks between teams in this conference don't exactly happen every day.) Antti Niemi was pulled midway through the second after giving up the third goal, and the Sharks mounted their comeback with backup Alex Stalock in net. It remains to be seen who will go for them tonight, but we're reasonably sure All-Star Jonas Hiller (has a nice ring to it) will be in net for Anaheim. Hiller this year has saved 76 of 78 in his two games against San Jose this year, both wins.
The Ducks (fifth place) are two points ahead of the Sharks (eighth) but Anaheim has played one more game. That and the fact the Ducks are trying to see if they're still the same team they were going into the break, makes this a big one. In fact, it's the Blackberry Game of the Night on NHL.com, which predicts a Ducks victory (at least according to the disappearing ballcap).
- - -Dan Sexton had some interesting things to say about his back-and-forth between Anaheim and Syracuse on the OC Register website. Sexton, by the way, was sent down to Syracuse last week to get him some ice time during the All-Star break. And he was brought up on Monday, where he took part in the first practice back for the Ducks.
Sexton had this to say about staying positive through what has been trips between the two coasts this year: “Sometimes I wonder how I don’t get more down because I feel like I should be. It’s just hard to fight what you’re natural feeling is and usually my natural feeling is pretty upbeat. Especially because when I go down there, I feel comfortable.
“It’s not the worst thing ever. But obviously in comparision to the NHL, it’s definitely not where you want to be. Definitely there’s been chances to get down on myself but some reason, I’ve been able to keep an upbeat attitude, whether it’s just talking to your dad about it or talking to someone about it and kind of relieving some of the things that are on your mind. Once you do that, you feel a lot better and you just play with a clear head and a more positive attitude.”
We have a feature on Sexton's travels in the new edition of Ducks Digest, which will be handed out at tonight's game and will be available on the website soon.
We have a feature on Sexton's travels in the new edition of Ducks Digest, which will be handed out at tonight's game and will be available on the website soon.
- - -
An epilogue to yesterday's travel piece (if anyone still cares):
After that aforementioned bumpy ride from Chicago to Vegas, we scrambled to pick up the bags they made us check, get new boarding passes, go through security and hustle to gate C9 for the 8:55 flight to Orange County. After a half-sprint/half-speedwalk, with my shoes only half on, to the gate (which just happened to be the furthest possible point away in the terminal) we arrived minutes before 8:55 to find out ... the plane was running a bit late.
A little more than an hour later, we were back in Orange County, and the feeling of our wheels hitting the John Wayne airport tarmac, nearly 12 hours after we flew out of Raleigh, was glorious. Then again, missing that flight and spending the night in Vegas? Well, it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world.
Updated February 1 at 4:47 p.m. (Chicago time)
One man’s trip to the NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, North Carolina:
8:30 a.m. (Orange County) – Sitting comfortably at John Wayne Airport waiting for my flight into Dallas to board, when I hear my named called over the PA with the words “final boarding call.” Realize I’m at the wrong gate. Sprinted with two bags to the correct gate and actually had to slow to a walk because I got winded. Thought to myself, if I miss a flight being out of shape, I’m going to be really mad at myself. Made it onto the flight, sweating. Nice start to the trip.
3:50 p.m. (Somewhere over Texas) – Connecting flight from Dallas to Raleigh has in-flight wi-fi, which I’m experiencing for the first time. If you had told 25-year-old me that someday I would be communicating with a couple thousand people through Twitter while 35,000 feet in the air, using in-flight wi-fi, I would have spit out my drink. Of course, I would have asked what Twitter and wi-fi was.
5:50 p.m. (Raleigh) – Upon landing, female flight attendant announces, “Please remember to take your personal problems – I mean items – with you when you exit the aircraft. Honestly not sure if she meant to do it or not. Whole plane cracks up. Woman next to me laughs a little harder and longer than everyone else.
7:20 p.m. – Driver of the shuttle from the hotel to RBC Arena for the SuperSkills doesn’t quite understand the urgency of a group of hockey fans getting to the arena for an event that already started. Takes his sweet time leaving the hotel, and then makes a wrong turn in the arena parking lot. I, and the others around me, are this close to screaming, “OPEN THE DOOR! WE’LL WALK THE REST OF THE WAY!”
7:30 p.m. – RBC Center has spotty cell phone reception, which if you know me, is an absolute disaster. It’s also not all that convenient when you’re trying to find where your friends are sitting. I eventually meet up with the two fellow Ducks staffers, who are sitting up in the top level. I don’t have a seat (just a media credential), so I sit on the step in the aisle. Did the same thing the next night at the All-Star Game and, to the ushers’ credit, never got kicked out. RBC Center, by the way, is a very nice arena, which the Canes share with NC State basketball. I didn’t know that. Jim Valvano banner in the rafters makes me flash back to the time he ran all over the court looking for someone to hug when NC State won the national title in 1983 on a last-second dunk. I was 10 at the time, but I remember it well.
8:30 p.m. – Saw Wild Wing walking around the arena, and wanted to give him the bro half-shake/half-hug, but wasn't sure it was my buddy (name withheld) inside the costume. I was later told it was. Oh well.
9 p.m. – SuperSkills, which can be hit and miss on TV, was pretty fun to watch in the arena. Loved that Corey Perry won the Elimination Shootout competition. Loved that Jonas Hiller DID NOT take part in the goalies’ portion of Fastest Skaters, especially after seeing Tim Thomas take a spill behind the net midway through his run.
10 p.m. to 1 a.m. – NHL party at the Raleigh Convention Center was an absolute blast. Free booze everywhere, including trays of beer carried by girls dressed as Greek goddesses (there was a theme). Party also included two women on stilts dressed as human trees, and one woman who was a human fountain, complete with water streaming out of her fingertips. Crazy. Ate approximately 526 crab cakes.
9 a.m. – Still in bed.
10 a.m. – Still in bed.
11 a.m. – Still in bed.
Noon – Join friends at another hotel for lunch at the hotel sports bar, where the manager is a big hockey fan (reminds me that the Hurricanes actually drafted Kings defenseman Jack Johnson), but the waitress clearly is not. She asks us if the All-Star Game is “like the Super Bowl of hockey?” (Not … exactly.) Tried fried pickles for the first time, which despite my love for pickles and my love for fried, were just average.
3 p.m. – Head over to RBC Arena for my first All-Star Game, and the atmosphere is incredible. Crowds gather outside for various fan attractions, including a live band. Inside, there is a certain electricity that feels different than a regular hockey game. There is just something unique about the buzz in the arena for a game in which it really doesn’t matter who wins. Tons of Canes jerseys in the arena, but also a sprinkling of other teams, including the Ducks. One sighting of the old Mighty Ducks jersey, the green one the kids wore in the movie.
3:30 p.m. – Sitting in a small bar area waiting for the game to start, and actually saying out loud, “How awesome is this?” Then realized that we didn’t even think to watch warm-ups. No big deal, the 40 best players in the NHL are all skating around on the same ice every day of the week, right?
4 p.m. – Get chills leading up to the introduction of the players when the PA announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest hockey players in the world,”
4:30 p.m. – Crowd goes crazy when Team Staal scores the first four goals of the game (Eric Staal and Canes teammate Cam Ward are both on the team). There is absolutely no defense to be found in the building. Backchecking strictly prohibited.
5:45 p.m. – My friends and I are rooting hard for Hiller in net for Team Lidstrom, though it’s never an easy thing to root for a goalie in an All-Star Game. We get a couple looks from fans when we yell, “Yes, Hillsie!” after a couple of his saves, especially since most of the arena is rooting for the other team. Hiller holds his own in there, making a game-high 15 saves. Although, one of those was off the mask on a Kris Letang shot, which we didn’t care for. After the whistle, he gets an apologetic embrace from Letang and a pat on the helmet from Corey Perry (who is on Team Staal).
6:00 p.m. – Chatted with Hiller’s agent Allain during the intermission, who confirmed how hard it is to watch your guy mind the net in an All-Star Game
6:45 p.m. – Praying for overtime, and even better, a shootout, but Team Staal fails to tie it in the closing seconds with their net empty. All in all, a fun game to watch in person.
8 p.m. – Versus holds a lavish, pull-out-all-the-stops party that we … did not have tickets for. Doesn’t bother me at all when people tell me the next morning how great it was. No, not at all. Instead, the three of us have a nice dinner where our waitress looks like a younger, slimmer Kelly Clarkson. (That’s a good thing.)
2 p.m. – Enjoyed a presentation on social media by Guy Kawasaki, who is a former Apple exec who is among the most active tweeters in the world. He opens by saying he’s an avid hockey fan who plays six days a week. Oh, and he lives in Hawaii. He’s also, unfortunately, a big Sharks fan. Guy recommends that teams repeat their tweets every eight hours, four times total. Not so sure about that practice.
8 p.m. – Dinner with five fellow staffers at the highly recommended Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Raleigh. At the table, the only thing we don’t talk about is hockey. Unless you count me retelling the story of how I nearly missed the team flight from Ottawa to Orange County during the ’07 Final.
8:30 a.m. – Attend one more session on mobile apps at NHL Business Meetings, having just watched video of Ryan Getzlaf’s first practice on the Ducks Mobile App (download it today!).
9:30 a.m. – Change clothes in my hotel room in record time, since we need to hustle to the airport for the flight home.
11 a.m. – Our flight that originally went through Dallas has been changed to one that connects in Chicago because of bad weather in Dallas. The weather in Chicago is supposed to be just as horrible, with a ton of snow due in the afternoon. Not sure whether we’re getting out of there today. Or tomorrow. I ask the group if they think they’ll cancel the Ducks game tomorrow night if I’m not there. Apparently not, if their laughter is any indication. We agree not to email Randy Carlyle that question.
4:00 p.m. (Chicago) – I’ll try and keep this brief. Got into snowy Chicago, then found out there was a delay on our connecting flight to Orange County because they were short a flight attendant. But with every passing moment and the impending storm, getting out of Chicago seemed unlikely. So we jumped on a flight to Vegas and scheduled a connecting to OC. The Vegas flight was delayed by de-icing, and then a pressure gauge failure. Just before we were told we had to get on a new plane, we found out that OUR ORIGINAL FLIGHT TO ORANGE COUNTY LEFT. Complete failure.
4:30 p.m. – Plane finally took off in the snow, drawing (slightly premature since we were barely off the ground) applause from the passengers. As I write this, we’re headed to Vegas, hoping to make out 8:55 connection. Then again, if we don’t. We’re in Vegas.
And I’ve just realized I’ve written more than 1,600 words in a space called Ducks Blog in which the word “Ducks” only appeared a handful of times. So, we’ll cut it off for now and report back on the rest of the trip later.