After weeks of speculation, Scott Niedermayer
’s long-awaited season debut Sunday night at Honda Center surprised no one. Certainly, the return of the Conn Smythe Trophy winner was anything but anti-climatic. Niedermayer’s presence on the Anaheim blue line during a 2-1 shootout loss to San Jose sent a buzz through Honda Center while giving the Ducks a huge jolt of adrenaline.
Judging by his performance – eight shots, four hits, three takeaways, and a plus-1 rating in 23:52 – Niedermayer might want to skip the first two-and-a-half months of every season. That’s not likely to happen, though. Niedermayer sounded like a man whose absence was accompanied by pangs of guilt. He said helping the Ducks regain a little of their Stanley Cup swagger Sunday night was the least he could do.
“In some ways,” Niedermayer told Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register, “I feel like I owe them a little more. I’m not sure how to do that, but that’s how I feel. I know (my teammates) have been out there battling for a while.”
Niedermayer very nearly capped his impressive comeback performance by scoring the winning goal. His overtime shot got behind San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov before clanging off a post. Even in defeat, however, the 34-year-old defenseman had and an undeniable presence.
“You kind of forget how good he was, for a second,” goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. Sunday’s showing offered a quick refresher course.
Among other things, Niedermayer’s return had an impact on the Ducks’ penalty killing. Anaheim has been shorthanded a League-high 201 times (a whopping 42 times more than the next most-penalized team, Calgary) while ranking 23rd in the NHL in penalty killing. That sounds a lot like a team bent on self-destruction. But Sunday, the Ducks were able to overcome themselves, keeping the Sharks from scoring on any of their eight power-play attempts.
While Niedermayer’s return was highly anticipated, the appearance of veteran Doug Weight in coach Randy Carlyle’s lineup and the absence of Andy McDonald were more dramatic. Bobby Ryan was back, too. The 20-year-old rookie was recalled from Portland in time to convert a pass from Weight, who arrived in the Friday trade that sent McDonald to St. Louis, into the game’s first goal, and the second of his career.
Weight said his first game with the Ducks felt more like a win than a loss.
“This is the type of game that changes a year,” Weight said. “It was a big, big point. We’d love to have two, but we need to build on this momentum.”
With two games this week against the division-leading Sharks, the Ducks, who trail San Jose by five points, have a chance to make up a lot of ground in short order.
“Getting that first one under your belt is a big step,” Niedermayer said Sunday night. The point the Ducks picked up Sunday was a big step, too. It moved them past St. Louis, which lost to Calgary, into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. With Niedermayer in the lineup, there’s a sense in Anaheim that the Ducks won’t be looking back.
That sinking feeling -- With their loss to Minnesota Saturday, the Kings entered the week in the midst of a three-game losing streak, having won just two of their last nine games.
After a promising October stretch that saw them win five of six games, the Kings have bottomed out, taking over sole possession of the NHL’s basement. At 12-19-2, Los Angeles had just 26 points as the week began, two points behind Washington in the NHL’s overall standings.
“If there's one thing I am disappointed about,” Kings coach Marc Crawford said, “it’s that we haven’t gotten through our thick skulls yet that it’s a very fine line between winning and losing in the National Hockey League.”
Keeping the puck out of their own net has been troublesome for Kings, who rank 28th in the NHL in goals against, giving up 3.24 per contest, while icing the League’s 27th ranked penalty killing unit.
Who’s hot -- Mike Ribeiro of the Stars has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last two games; teammates Antti Miettinen (two goals, four assists in three games) and Sergei Zubov have also been hot (one goal, seven assists in three games). … Radim Vrbata of the Coyotes has five points (two goals, three assists) over the past two contests, while teammate Ed Jovanovski has a pair of assists in his last two games. … San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov is 3-1-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average in his lasts four starts. … Nabokov leads the NHL in wins with 18.
Who’s not -- Anaheim’s Rob Niedermayer has gone scoreless for nine consecutive games, while teammate Todd Marchant has been kept off the score sheet for the last eight games. Francois Beauchemin of Anaheim is in the midst of a five-game scoring drought. … Stu Barnes of Dallas has not scored in eight games. … Dallas goalie Mike Smith is 0-2-0 with a 3.55 GAA and .851 save percentage in his last two outings. … Jaroslav Modry of the Kings has not scored in five games and is on pace for a disappointing 10-point season.
The week ahead -- Anaheim, which has dropped four of its last five games, hopes to turn things around with two big Pacific Division games against San Jose this week. After their 2-1 overtime loss to the Sharks Sunday at Honda Center, the Ducks travel to San Jose Tuesday, then return to Northern California for a return engagement Saturday. “It’s a big week for our team,” Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere said. “When you see the same team three times in a week, every period is important.”
Sandwiched between the two showdowns with San Jose will be a game in Anaheim against Colorado.
Dallas takes a three-game winning streak into a three-game swing through Western Canada. The Stars visit Edmonton (Tuesday), Vancouver (Thursday), and Calgary (Friday). They wrap up the week by hosting Montreal Sunday.
Los Angeles begin the week with seven losses in nine games, hoping to break out of its most recent funk by hosting Colorado Monday before a three-game trip took the Kings to Detroit (Wednesday), Columbus (Friday), and Nashville (Saturday).
Phoenix looks to continue its road success; the Coyotes have won three of the first four games of a string of six straight road contests. Wayne Gretzky’s team will play at Philadelphia Tuesday and San Jose Thursday.
San Jose has won six of eight games in December and will look to continue its winning ways during a three-game homestand that brings Anaheim (Tuesday and Saturday) and Phoenix (Thursday) to Silicon Valley.