|The Ducks are hoping Scott Niedermayer will be the boost they need to win another Stanley Cup.
A year ago, the Ducks entered the weekend before Christmas with a lordly 27-4-1-5 record; their 60 points were 10 more than Eastern Conference-leading Buffalo. Anaheim’s 134 goals were the most in the NHL (only Buffalo was within 15), and its 87 goals against (including the five shootout goals) was seventh. Most notably, the Ducks were plus-22 on special teams, having scored 44 power-play goals, allowed just 25 and scored three shorthanded goals while allowing none.
Fast-forward a year; as Christmas 2007 approaches, the Ducks bear little resemblance to the team of a year ago.
They’re down 21 points in the standings with a 17-15-5 record after Wednesday night’s 2-1 overtime victory agaainst Colorado, have dropped from 134 goals scored to 90 and have surrendered 102, up from 87.
Many of the Ducks’ problems have come on special teams. They’ve fallen from 41 power-play goals scored at this time last season to 25, while allowing a League-high 41 power-play goals, 16 more than at the same time last season. The Ducks have scored six times while down a man, but have allowed four shorthanded goals. That’s a difference of 33 special-teams goals -- and asking one player, even someone as great as Niedermayer, to overcome that difference is asking a lot.
One area in which the Ducks could help themselves is discipline. A year ago, they had enjoyed four more power plays than they allowed (191 to 187); this season, they’ve had 167 chances but have allowed a League-high 207. That’s a swing of 44 opportunities — and it’s very hard to win anything when allowing opponents an average of more than an extra power play per game.
Henrik’s Garden -- Unfortunately for Henrik Lundqvist, the NHL schedule dictates that the New York Rangers must play half their games away from Madison Square Garden. While Lundqvist is a solid NHL performer away from home, he lives up to his “King Henrik” nickname at MSG.
Lundqvist is 11-6-0 with five shutouts and a 1.68 goals-against average in his 17 starts at the Garden, including Tuesday’s 18-save shutout of Pittsburgh. On the road, he’s a pedestrian 5-6-2 with a 2.55 goals-against average and one shutout — a 1-0 shootout loss in Boston.
The 25-year-old Swede has always done his best work at the Garden. The shutout/shootout loss on Boston on Oct. 20 is the only one of his 13 career shutouts that has come away from home. Overall, he’s 51-23-8 at the Garden; 32-23-11 on the road.
Thursday’s 6-3 loss in Minnesota marked the fourth time in six games that Lundqvist has allowed four or more goals. The other two games? Both home shutouts.
No place like home -- Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo is another goalie who likes to play at home, although it hasn’t been that way all season.
Luongo lost six of his first seven starts at GM Place this season, allowing nearly 3.4 goals per game. But since a 3-0 loss to Nashville on Nov. 1, Luongo’s been almost unbeatable at home.
He’s 8-0-2 in his last 10 home starts, including Thursday night’s 3-2 win against Dallas. Five of the wins were shutouts, and he has allowed just seven goals in those games.
Dallas’ loss in Vancouver was a rarity for Stars’ goalie Marty Turco. He had been 13-2-1 with a 1.59 GAA in his last 16 starts against the Canucks, including 8-1 record with a 1.11 GAA and two shutouts in Vancouver.
Familiarity breeds non-success -- The Detroit Red Wings are off to one of the best starts in their history; they matched a team record for fewest games needed to win 25 games, set by the 1995-96 team that also won 25 of its first 33 games on the way to setting the NHL record with 62 victories.
But Detroit’s success isn’t coming at the expense of its own division. The Wings are 20-1-1 in games outside the Central Division, but just 5-6-2 against the other four Central teams after Thursday’s 3-2 loss in St. Louis.
December demon -- Maybe it’s the coming of Christmas, or the impending end of the old year, but Minnesota’s Brian Rolston seems to do his best work in the last month of the calendar year. In the Wild’s last 40 games during the month of December, Rolston has 44 points, a pace that would give him 91 points per season — impressive for a player whose career average is 53 points per 82 games. Rolston has had multiple points in 15 of those 40 games.
Hard day’s night -- Fans who filled the Wachovia Center to see the Flyers and the Carolina Hurricanes got more hockey than they bargained for. The Hurricanes’ 6-5 shootout victory in Philadelphia took three hours and six minutes — the longest regular-season game since play resumed after the lockout in 2005.