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Pacific: In Anaheim, ugly Ducklings no more

by Doug Ward /

Scott Niedermayer has had an impact on the Ducks and has helped them lift their overall record.
You can’t win a division in January, but it’s never too early to make a statement. The Anaheim Ducks sent the message to the first-place San Jose Sharks that they are intent on defending their division title, even if they have to play 60 minutes -- or more -- a night to do it. That much became clear after Anaheim stole a 4-3 overtime win from the Sharks in a Pacific Division showdown in Orange County Sunday.

“They had no business getting a point,” San Jose’s Jeremy Roenick said after the game.

Quite to the contrary. After winning nine of 13 games, including a season-high six in a row at home, the Ducks are looking more and more like a team prepared to take care of the business of defending their Stanley Cup title.

The Ducks staggered to a 19-17-5 first half record, good for 43 points. A year ago, when they went coast-to-coast to win their first Stanley Cup, the Ducks had 62 points in the season’s first half.

The second Cup is always tougher than the first, and finding goals has been the biggest challenge in Anaheim, where the Ducks have put the puck in the net a mere 2.49 times per game (25th in the NHL) in the season’s first 47 games. The possible return of Teemu Selanne, who had 48 goals a year ago, would do wonders here.

The good news, of course, is that Scott Niedermayer is back and he’s clearly had an impact. The Ducks have now won six consecutive games at home and have lifted their overall record to 24-17-6. With 54 points, the Ducks are a mere three points behind division-leading San Jose, and just one back of second-place Dallas.

Sunday’s comeback was the Ducks’ 12th come-from-behind win of the season, suggesting they are shaking off any semblance of a Stanley Cup hangover and are developing the heart of a champion. In Sunday’s four-point game with the Sharks, Doug Weight’s shot from the boards deflected off San Jose’s Alexei Semenov and into the net to tie the game with 27.7 seconds remaining in regulation. Weight has only been in Anaheim for a month, but already he’s learned that the Ducks have a way of making their own breaks.

Francois Beauchemin scored the game-winner just 33 seconds into overtime, ending San Jose’s 10-game road wining streak. It was Beauchemin’s first goal since Oct. 10.

For the first time this season, Sharks coach Ron Wilson sat goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, calling on Thomas Greiss to make his NHL debut. Nabokov, who will represent the Western Conference in the upcoming All-Star Game, had appeared on all 43 of San Jose’s games prior to Sunday.

Around the Pacific -- The Stars anticipate the return of Jere Lehtinen (sports hernia) and Jussi Jokinen (knee) sometime around the All-Star break. … L.A.’s Anze Kopitar was thrilled to be named to his first All-Star Game. “If you think about it,” Kopitar told the L.A. Times, “it’s probably the best 40 players in the world for that game. To be one of them, it’s really an honor.” … San Jose’s Jeremy Roenick moved past Joe Mullen and into second place among American-born players when he scored career goal No. 503 last week. … Word out of Anaheim is that Teemu Selanne has ramped up his skating regimen and a decision on his return to the Ducks will come in the next couple weeks. … Dallas is reportedly interested in obtaining Toronto’s Mats Sundin before the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Sundin, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, has a no-trade clause in his contract and would have to sign off any deal.

The Stern One -- If awards were handed out at mid-season, Wayne Gretzky, who has coached the Coyotes to a 23-20-1 record (47 points) -- just four points out of a playoff position -- would be a prime contender for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year.

Gretzky said he has grown sterner in his second year behind the Coyotes bench, but is still a soft touch compared to Glen Sather, his old coach in Edmonton.

“I don’t get as upset as Glen Sather,” Gretzky told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I tell guys I’m a saint compared to Glen. I was the king of the ‘yeah, buts’ when I was young. I’ve heard every line; at least I thought I had, until one of the kids said earlier this year; ‘I beg to differ.’ He got me on that one.”


Who’s hot -- Anaheim’s Todd Bertuzzi has five points (2 goals, 3 assists) in his last two games. Teammate Corey Perry has six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in three games, while Ryan Getzlaf has five points (1 goal, 4 assists) in his last three games. Getzlaf is in the midst of a career-high streak of 10 consecutive games with a point. … Joe Thornton of the Sharks has picked up seven assists in his last three games. Thornton is now second in the league in assists with 40 and is tied for 10th overall in scoring (53 points). …Dallas’ Mike Modano has five assists in three games. … Rob Blake, 38, is on pace for a career-low seven goals this season, but he has three points in his last two games to help spur the Kings’ modest two-game winning streak. … Phoenix goaltender Mikael Tellqvist has been relegated to a backup role since Ilya Bryzgalov arrived in the desert in November, but he has excelled in that role, going 2-0-0, with a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in his last two appearances.

Not hot -- Anaheim’s Rob Niedermayer is scoreless in 21 games and is on pace to tie the career-low of 10 points he established in 1994-95 with Florida. … Mike York of the Coyotes has not scored in six games. … Dallas goaltender Mike Smith is 0-3-0, with a lowly .862 save percentage in his last three appearances.

The week ahead -- Anaheim has won five of six games in January and will look continue its hot streak when they host Dallas Tuesday. The Ducks then take to the road, visiting Nashville (Thursday), Minnesota (Friday), and Dallas (Sunday). The Stars, who have dropped five their first seven games of the New Year, will look to turn things around when they visit Pacific Division rivals Anaheim (Tuesday) and San Jose (Thursday). Dallas closes out the week by hosting Columbus (Saturday) and the Ducks (Sunday) in a pair of matinees at American Airlines Center. Los Angeles takes its three-game winning streak to Western Canada, where they meet Edmonton (Tuesday), Calgary (Friday), and Vancouver (Saturday).

Phoenix begins a five-game homestand Tuesday against San Jose. Columbus (Thursday), Chicago (Saturday), Buffalo (Jan. 21), and Nashville (Jan. 24) also visit Arena.

San Jose, which had its three-game winning streak snapped Sunday in Anaheim, will close out a brief, two-game roadie at Phoenix Tuesday. The Sharks then launch a four-game homestand vs. Dallas Thursday. Detroit (Saturday), Chicago (Jan. 22), and St. Louis (Jan. 24) also visit HP Pavilion.


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