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Pacific: Will home cooking solve Ducks' woes?

by Doug Ward / NHL.com

Ilya Bryzgalov and the Anaheim Ducks dropped three straight road games to Detroit, Columbus and Pittsburgh after returning from opening up in London.
It could be jet lag, or it could be a case of Stanley Cup hangover. Maybe it can be explained away by the absence of goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who has yet to play this season after undergoing off-season surgery for a sports hernia. But whatever it is, the Anaheim Ducks have not been themselves so far this season.

After splitting their two transcontinental encounters with the Kings in London, the Ducks made three stopovers on their return trip that were not duty free.

Anaheim took its hard-earned marquee-team status to Detroit, Columbus and Pittsburgh, and they were gracious enough to let each of those teams win its home openers.

“Everyone was motivated to play these guys,” Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby said. “They’re the champions and we were all up for this game, playing Anaheim, and it’s the home opener.”

The Ducks, it seems, will have to get used to being the hunted. In Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Columbus, local fans all had the thrill of seeing their team take down the Stanley Cup champions.

But did they really?

 

Three of the players most responsible for putting that target on the Ducks’ backs -- Giguere, Scott Niedermayer, and Teemu Selanne -- have yet to play this season. Giguere is close to being game-ready, but the status of the waffling Niedermayer and Selanne remains as uncertain as ever.

The Ducks have also been without defensive-minded forward Samuel Pahlsson, and offensive-minded defenseman Mathieu Schneider.

Giguere, Pahlsson, and Schneider will all eventually return. But the Ducks’ season-opening funk only serves to muddle the questions surrounding the possible return of Niedermayer and Selanne.

Now that the Ducks have just one win in their first five games, do they feel more needed than ever before? Or will a few more losses be all it takes for Niedermayer and Selanne to start feeling like they got out ahead of the posse?

Chris Pronger, who has taken over as Anaheim’s captain in Niedermayer’s absence, had this to say after the team’s most recent defeat, a 5-4 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

“Last year was last year. This is this year.”

And that’s been the problem in Anaheim. After the first week of the season, there’s no mistaking the good Ducks and the bad Ducks.

A year ago, the balanced Ducks finished ninth in the NHL in goals-for (3.10 per game) and seventh in goals-against (2.42). So far this season, they are in the bottom third of the League in both categories, scoring 2.20 goals per contest (23rd) while allowing 3.20 goals per contest (21st).

Of course, the Ducks did not open their Stanley Cup winning season with a five-game, 14-day, 10,000-mile road trip. The old Mighty Ducks and Canucks, for example, dropped the puck on the 1997-98 season in Tokyo, and never recovered. Anaheim finished 26-43-13, while Vancouver posted a 25-43-14 record. The following season, the Flames and Sharks begin the season in Tokyo and paid for it. Calgary finished 30-40-12, while San Jose went 31-33-18.

So far, this season’s Anaheim team looks more like the 1997-98 Guy Hebert-backstopped (13-24-6) Mighty Ducks than the defending champs. But it’s early. And it’s hard to imagine the first week of the season being much more than a reflection of tough scheduling, key injuries, and the lingering uncertainty surrounding the status of Niedermayer and Selanne.

The Ducks will play their first home game as Stanley Cup champions Wednesday at Honda Center. Neither Niedermayer nor Selanne will be in the Anaheim lineup. Pahlsson and Schneider won’t play, either, and Giguere is listed as day-to-day. Still, with Boston as their opponent, it’s a good opportunity for the Ducks to celebrate their status as Stanley Cup champions.

It’s also a good time to start playing like the defending champs.

The Ducks will play 11 of their next 14 games at a home, which should enable the road-weary team the perfect opportunity to start looking like its old self again.

Who’s hot -- Michael Cammalleri of the Kings has four goals and one assist in his first three games. Teammate Anze Kopitar has five assists during that span, while Dustin Brown has two goals and two assists. ... Anaheim’s Corey Perry has five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in five games while teammate Chris Kunitz has four points (3 goals, 1 assist). … The Sharks’ Joe Thornton has three points (2 goals, 1 assist) in his first three games of the season.

Not hot -- After a stirring debut last week in London, 19-year-old Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Bernier came back down to earth Saturday, giving up four goals on 31 shots (.871 save percentage) in the Kings’ 5-3 loss to St. Louis.

Around the Pacific -- Center Mike Ribeiro is close to returning to the Stars lineup, but is not expected to play Wednesday when Dallas hosts Los Angeles. ... In Phoenix, Wayne Gretzky is determined to enjoy his tenure as head coach of the Coyotes and wants his young team to enjoy the ride, too. “I often said from my days in Edmonton,” Gretzky told the Arizona Republic’s Jim Gintonio, “the one thing I regretted most was I didn’t sit back and sometimes cherish and really take in what was being accomplished there. And, as I got older, then you really understand; ‘Hey, this isn’t gonna happen again.’ When I was in the Finals in 1993 with the Kings, it was really special because it had been so long. When I was in Edmonton, you just expected to make the Finals.” … The Sharks’ signing of Jeremy Roenick prompted a lot of head scratching last summer, but Roenick had a pair of goals to lead San Jose to a 3-1 win against Vancouver on Friday. “I was retired,” Roenick said. “I had my golf clubs in my hand and I was ready to hang it up. Thank goodness a call from (Sharks GM) Doug Wilson kept me around.” Roenick and Wilson were teammates in Chicago for three seasons (1988-89, ’89-90, and ’90-91).

The week ahead -- The Ducks will unfurl their Stanley Cup championship banner Wednesday at Honda Center when they host Boston. The impact of the banner will be watered down a bit because the Ducks will also be raising banners commemorating their Western Conference and Pacific Division titles.

Players will receive their Stanley Cup rings in a private ceremony prior to the game.

As at the Kings’ home opener Saturday at Staples Center, Anaheim players will enter Honda Center via a red carpet. The contest will mark the first game of a four-game homestand for Anaheim.

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