Every team in the NHL talks about wanting a good start to its season. In Anaheim, it's more than a cliché.
The memory of the 2006-07 Stanley Cup-champion Ducks coming out of the gate like a freight train running downhill is etched in the organization's collective memory. Each successive Ducks team has stumbled early, which is something that coach Randy Carlyle
says the organization had to face.
"That's really been an issue that we've had to get our head around," Carlyle said, "that we really haven't had the starts that are necessary or required for this hockey club, specifically last year. Years previous, we've been able to get ourselves out of it. It starts the first of October, not the first of November."
Right wing Corey Perry
, one of the club's homegrown leaders, says the message is clear.
"(We've been) talking about it since the last game last year," Perry said. "That's what hurts us, our start."
If the Ducks have accomplished one thing during the Brian Burke
era, it's organizational consistency, building what they believe is an elite franchise by being patient with young players and leaning heavily on veteran experience.
New leaders are emerging in Anaheim now, particularly Perry and linemate Ryan Getzlaf
, who represent the organization's patience and commitment to development. Entering their sixth seasons in the League, more eyes than ever are trained on the pair of young veterans, who the club drafted in the first round in 2003.
Perry knows how he's perceived off-ice, as low-key and perhaps shy, but in the locker room he's a different animal.
"I'm pretty vocal in the locker room," Perry told NHL.com. "I'm a guy that likes to get guys going and lead by example on the ice. I talk a lot in the dressing room. Outside of the rink I'm pretty shy and quiet, but in the dressing room I'm pretty comfortable and vocal."
With future Hall-of-Famers Chris Pronger
and Scott Niedermayer
gone, the organization will need Perry and Getzlaf to step up and lead. Getzlaf suffered a series of aches and pains that limited him to 66 games in 2009-10, but if the first day of camp was any indication -- during which he skated as swiftly as any time in memory -- he's ready to be among the League's elite.
A notable change is coming to the team's forward ranks. After years of two scoring lines, a checking line and an energy line, Carlyle feels that the Ducks could go with three scoring lines featuring centers Getzlaf, Saku Koivu
and -- surprise -- a converted Bobby Ryan
"The way we're going to go forward is we're going to put (Ryan) at center to start and he has to fail in that position," Carlyle said. "We think it's a position that suits him and makes him more effective."
Last season's emergence of 22-year-old left wing Matt Beleskey
and 23-year-old right wing Dan Sexton
gives the Ducks a wealth of options at forward.
"Beleskey played very well last year with Getzlaf and Perry, so we might start that or we could move (Ryan) there or we could move (Dan) Sexton there," Carlyle said. "If Bobby Ryan
plays center, then we have the option of Teemu on his wing, of Jason Blake
on his wing."
Although not prone to grand pronouncements, Carlyle was clear that Ryan's new position is more than an experiment -- it's part of his plan.
"If we could develop three lines out of this group," Carlyle said, "I'm sure that's what you're going to see. We've always had a checking line here, but the way our lineup sits now, I think it's leading more to having a balanced three units of scoring and maybe have more of a checking line, (or) an energy line made up of those types of players."
The big question surrounding the Ducks is their rebuilt defense. The team finished a woeful 22nd in team goals-against last season (an all-time low for Carlyle's clubs), and new faces abound.
"People are basically saying that they're not good enough," Carlyle said. "If you know any pro athlete (who) gets confronted with those types of situations, we look for the response to be a positive one. The comments that are made about your hockey club are things that you can use somewhat as a motivation to some individuals."
The Ducks added veterans Andy Sutton
and Paul Mara
, as well as Toni Lydman
(held out thus far due to double-vision symptoms). Carlyle says that his big veteran defensemen need to prove their mobility, especially, as he calls it, in the "new-rules" NHL. He will also need a couple of his more tantalizing prospects to step up and seize the moment, notably Luca Sbisa
and Cam Fowler
"That’s really been an issue that we’ve had to get our head around, that we really haven’t had the starts that are necessary or required for this hockey club, specifically last year. Years previous, we’ve been able to get ourselves out of it. It starts the first of October, not the first of November"
-- Ducks' coach Randy Carlyle
"Sbisa performed very well for his junior team both in Lethbridge and Portland last year. He got to play for the Swiss team in the Olympics," Carlyle said. "(He's) a young player that we think is an exciting player (who) has an opportunity to earn a spot here. We know the commitment he's made to conditioning over the summer months and that's the most important (thing)."
"If (Cam Fowler
) can continue to do the things that he does best, skating and moving the puck and being effective at doing that, and he does it from the first day at camp to the second and the third, right through to the end of camp, he'll make it difficult on us."
The defense may be a question mark, but the forward ranks are stacked and the club is happy to enter the season with Jonas Hiller
as the clear-cut No. 1 goaltender, with Curtis McElhinney
as the likely backup.
"It's easier for me to come here and know how things are going to go," Hiller said. "(I'm) not under as much pressure to prove (myself) every second in training camp."
He'll have plenty of work learning to communicate with his new defensemen.
"You can talk about some stuff," Hiller told NHL.com, "how you're going to handle certain situations, but in the end it's learning together how I react, how they react. It's going to take some time but that's why we have preseason games (and) scrimmages on the ice to find that communication."