When the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks
make their obligatory visit to the White House Wednesday, they’ll do so amid concerns that their meeting with President George W. Bush will amount to a caucus of lame ducks.
Bush has less than 12 months left in office, and, after losing six-straight games, the Ducks are looking like a team whose reign could be over before the end of the primary season.
During the recent freefall, Anaheim’s lack of firepower has been as painful to watch as the economy. After being shut out in back-to-back games, the Ducks entered the week carrying a scoreless streak of 155 minutes and 20 seconds around their necks. Anaheim has scored a mere five goals during their losing streak. All of this came after Scott Niedermayer’s return appeared to be the only endorsement the Ducks needed. As soon as Niedermayer returned, Anaheim reeled off 12 wins in 16 games. They’ve since come back to earth and now carry an overall record of 12-7-3 since Niedermayer’s return.
Niedermayer’s numbers have swooned, too. After picking up 11 points in his first 16 games, last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner has gone scoreless in eight games while posting a minus-6 rating.
The Ducks are hoping for another jolt of positive energy from Teemu Selanne, who signed with the team Jan. 28, and could take the ice as early as tonight on Long Island. He played his first game in an Anaheim uniform on Long Island back in 1996, responding with two goals. The Ducks could use that type of a jolt now. Selanne’s arrival would seem to be the perfect antidote to the low approval rating of the Ducks’ offense (2.36 goals per game), which ranks dead last in the NHL.
But did Selanne wait too long? He was not available for at least the first three games of the Ducks’ marathon eight-day, 14-game road trip. It’s too early in the season for the road swing to be considered make-or-break, but the trip could set a tone for the remainder of the season.
Coach Randy Carlyle said expecting Selanne to be a white knight would be “unfair.”
Anaheim GM Brian Burke believes his team’s recent struggles amount to an aberration. Maybe, but the Ducks’ problems putting points on the scoreboard have been on-going, and Burke admits he hasn’t ruled out bringing in a scorer.
“As a manager,” Burke told the Los Angeles Times, “your job is to evaluate all scenarios. The view going in would be to add to the group, not to change the group so much.”
The Ducks have $1.8 million under the salary cap and Toronto’s Mats Sundin and Atlanta’s Marian Hossa are both available and could conceivably be added to the ticket. Either one would help. Sundin has 22 goals and 58 points this season, while Hossa has 23 goals and 48 points.
The Ducks have played 56 games, which ties them with Dallas for most in the NHL. But Anaheim’s 61 points are just three more than Vancouver, currently the Western Conference’s ninth-place team. Unless things change, the Ducks could find themselves battling just to make the playoffs.
Whether it comes in the form of a trade or in the arrival of Selanne, it’s safe to say the team visiting the White House this week is as desperate for an agent of change as the office itself.
Around the Pacific -- Brian Boyle of the Kings made an impressive NHL debut Saturday in New Jersey, picking up a goal and an assist in his team’s 6-3 loss to the Devils. … Kings captain Rob Blake is expected to be sidelined two weeks with a fractured ankle. Blake, whom the Kings have reportedly dangled as trade bait, is expected to be back by Feb. 15, 11 days before the NHL trade deadline. Mike Cammalleri and Tom Preissing could also be jettisoned by the Kings before the deadline. … Kings’ winger Ladislav Nagy was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury. … Peter Forsberg has announced his intention to return to the NHL, and the Stars are believed to be pursuing the Swedish star aggressively. The Ducks and Sharks are also thought to be interested.
Who’s hot -- Radim Vrbata of the Coyotes has seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in his last four games. … Teammate Ed Jovonovski has nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in eight games. … The Stars’ Mike Ribeiro has picked up five assists in three games, while teammate Stephane Robidas has three points (2 goals, 1 assist) in three games. Stars’ goaltender Marty Turco, meanwhile, has won his last two starts while posting a 1.00 goals-against average and .969 save percentage.
Who’s not -- Just about everyone on the Ducks’ roster fits into this category. Doug Weight has not scored in nine games, while teammates Brian Sutherby (26 games) and Todd Marchant (8 games) are also riding long scoreless streaks. On the blue line, Scott Niedermayer isn’t the only Duck in a slump. Chris Pronger is scoreless in four games, during which time he is minus-4. The funk surrounding the Ducks has even reached goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who is 0-2-1 in his last three starts, with an uncharacteristic 3.05 GAA and .878 save percentage.
The week ahead -- The Ducks have five games remaining on a nine-game road trip that began with losses at Los Angeles, Minnesota, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. … Dallas hosts Vancouver (Tue.), and St. Louis (Sat.) with a game at Minnesota (Thu.) sandwiched in between. … Los Angeles has five games remaining on its marathon eight-game roadie. The Kings have games remaining at New York (Tue.), Detroit (Thu.), Pittsburgh (Sat.), Columbus (Sun.), and St. Louis (Feb. 12). … Phoenix began the week at Colorado and will visit Calgary (Tue.) before returning to Arizona to face Columbus (Thu.) and Nashville (Sun.). … San Jose hosts Colorado (Wed.), Columbus (Fri.) and Nashville (Sat.).