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The Anaheim Ducks weren't thrilled to get off to a slow start last season in defense of their 2007 Stanley Cup title, but their early struggles were at least understandable considering two of their best players were off the ice and mulling retirement.
Their early stumble this season is quickly becoming much more troubling.
The Ducks will again look for their first victory on Wednesday night when they host the Edmonton Oilers, a team they've struggled to beat in recent years. And it's a team the Ducks have developed a rivalry with, stemming from Anaheim's acquisition of Chris Pronger in the summer of 2006, Edmonton's signing of Dustin Penner away from the Ducks two summers ago and the media sparring between GMs Brian Burke and Kevin Lowe.
Anaheim's 4-7-3 start to last season was hardly ideal, but it wasn't hard to find an explanation, as the team was trying to fill a pair of major voids while dealing with a championship hangover.
Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, their Conn Smythe trophy winner and leading scorer, respectively, in 2006-07, both missed the early part of last season while considering retirement, but both returned and the Ducks rebounded for their second straight 100-point season and third straight playoff appearance.
With Niedermayer and Selanne both skating to start 2008-09, it's harder to explain Anaheim's problems out of the gate. The Ducks (0-3-0) have been outscored 14-6 in a trio of multi-goal losses.
Tuesday's 6-3 loss at Los Angeles was especially ugly, as Anaheim jumped out to a 2-0 lead before allowing five unanswered goals. The Ducks, who led the league in penalty minutes each of the past two seasons, took five consecutive penalties in the second period as their penalty kill allowed three goals in the game.
"It's not rust. There's no viable excuses. We're just not working as a team," goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. "We need to work together and rely on each other and be confident that the guy beside you is going to do his job. Right now we're just lacking that confidence."
Coming off perhaps his strongest season, meanwhile, Giguere has a 4.38 goals-against average and .851 save percentage. He set career bests in both statistics last season, with a 2.12 GAA and .922 save percentage.
It may not get much easier against Edmonton, which has gone 8-3-1 against the Ducks in the last three seasons - not including its four-games-to-one victory over Anaheim in the 2006 Western Conference finals. Despite missing the playoffs last season, the Oilers won three of four versus the Ducks, including a 4-0 victory in their last visit to Honda Center on Dec. 2.
Mathieu Garon made 25 saves in that game for one of his four shutouts last season, and the Oilers (1-0-0) again received a strong performance from their goaltender in a 3-2 season-opening victory over Colorado on Sunday.
Coach Craig MacTavish's young club was outshot 33-19 and outplayed for much of the game, but two third-period goals by Dustin Penner - including the game-winner with 5.4 seconds to play - helped them win their fifth straight opener.
"Overall our team game wasn't very good, and we know that. We're not going to be satisfied with that just because we got the win," forward Kyle Brodziak said. "We know most nights if we like that we're not going to get the two points. So we've got some things to work on and we know we've got to be better come Wednesday."
Edmonton will also be looking for a strong performance in its road opener. The Oilers went 18-18-5 on the road last season, but they'll need to get comfortable quickly away from home this season. They play 12 of their next 14 games on the road.
The Ducks were 28-9-4 at home last year, but they lost their home opener 4-2 to Phoenix Sunday.
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