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A Phoenix Rising?

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

Yeah, Smith's tall.

A bumpy Ducks road trip gave way to a frustrating stay in Southern California, so the Ducks can only hope they bounce back after stepping off the plane once again.

Anaheim's only trip outside of SoCal in a 30-day stretch that started earlier this month is a quick flight to Phoenix and a bus ride to Glendale, where the Ducks will try and turn things around against the Coyotes tonight.

"As nice as it is to be at home and be around family and things like that, it's a nice reprieve when you get to go on the road and get a little rest and some time with your teammates," Bobby Ryan said. "That's an important part of the process throughout a season. Guys will get together and talk about things, and hopefully it's a starting point for us tonight."

The Coyotes, as they've done so often the past few seasons, have risen above expectations in their first season without Ilya Bryzgalov since 2007. Former Star, former Lightning (bolt?) and current boring name guy Mike Smith has filled in nicely, with a 9-3-3 record, 2.16 goals-against average and a gaudy .936 save percentage. The 6-foot-4 Smith is a major reason the Yotes are hanging around the eighth spot with a 10-6-3 record despite a loss two nights ago in Washington.

The Ducks have seen Smith already this season, scoring four goals against him in a disappointing 5-4 loss at Honda Center back on October 23. That defeat was the second straight in a weekend stay at home, and two days later the Ducks began that fateful seven-game, 13-day road trip that made it easy to forget about their hot 4-1-0 start to the season.

Now the Ducks are 6-10-4 at the (mixed metaphor alert) quarter-pole of the NHL marathon and looking to right the ship immediately. And if you think your favorite team is making you lose sleep, imagine being their coach. Randy Carlyle broached that subject after practice yesterday, just before he and his troops headed up to LAX for the quick flight to the desert.

"There’s a buzzer that goes off in my brain somewhere around 3 in the morning and it’s always about what’s going on at work and what’s going on with the hockey club," he told reporters in his familiar spot in the Honda Center hallway. "Then there’s a toss and turn for sometimes two hours, sometimes it’s three hours and sometimes it’s one hour.

"And then you want to sleep till 10 because you’re tired and you’ve just gotten back to sleep at 5. Those are the things that happen. Part of the stress and the pressure that comes with not having the success you feel you’re capable of."

More than sleep habits, Carlyle also talked about his hopes for relatively new Duck Ben Maxwell, the former Winnipeg Jet waiver wire pickup who should be getting some time on the third line tonight. Maxwell centered that unit a bit in the third period Sunday night against Detroit and in yesterday's practice he skated there with other new Duck Niklas Hagman and young Duck Devante Smith-Pelly.

“I thought he displayed in a couple of instances, his hockey sense and his ability with the puck,” Carlyle said. “We think that we’ll give him a look in the middle right now with Hagman and Smith-Pelly. We’ve experimented and tried other people there and I don’t think we were really comfortable with that."

Maxwell has limited NHL experience -- 36 NHL games in four seasons with Montreal and the Thrashers/Jets -- but he put up good numbers with Hamilton of the AHL (142 points in 177 games).

“I played in the NHL parts of the last three or four seasons,” the 23-year-old Maxwell said. “I just never really stuck around. I think now, I’m not taking it for granted. I don’t have infinite chances. I have to take advantage of one of these. I’m hoping to do that here.”

Despite playing them (and the rest of the Pacific) six times a season, the Ducks have not been to Glendale since last January 15. 

Tonight's game is at 6 p.m. Pacific time on Prime Ticket, a nice way to start a holiday weekend that includes the Ducks' traditional day-after-Thanksgiving matinee with the Blackhawks on Friday at Honda Center.

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Meanwhile, in case you need a good hockey-related chuckle right about now, this one actually made me laugh out loud:

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