Ducks still looking for consistency
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2007
By Lucas Aykroyd
It’s fortunate for the Anaheim Ducks that they won’t be competing in the Stanley Cup finals at the start of December. If that was the case, their chances of repeating as champions would be much slimmer.
This hasn’t been a disastrous season so far. The Ducks are in the middle of the Western Conference pack, and although they started poorly with just four wins in October, November went significantly better points-wise. But they haven’t put together a streak that resembles going 16 games undefeated in regulation, as they did to kick off 2006-07.
“We haven’t played 60 minutes in a long time,” captain Chris Pronger said. “And until we do, we’re not going to get out of this win-one, lose-one scenario. We need to make sure that when teams play us, they know what they’re in for. Right now, even we don’t know with the inconsistent play we’re coming out with. We’ve talked about it in meeting after meeting, amongst ourselves, before games, between periods, and so on. We’ve got to take a look in the mirror and make sure we’re prepared to go to battle every single night.”
It’s always tough to muster up the willpower to repeat as a Cup winner. The last team to accomplish that feat was the Detroit Red Wings of 1997 and 1998.
Roster turnover is a constant in the NHL, and without Teemu Selanne, last year’s team scoring leader, and superstar defenseman Scott Niedermayer, this team can’t play as offensively as it did last year.
Two gifted 22-year-olds, center Ryan Getzlaf and right wing Corey Perry, have emerged as the new offensive leaders. However, Andy McDonald is nowhere near the 30-goal plateau he twice approached on Selanne’s line, and of course, there are serious questions about whether Todd Bertuzzi (back from a concussion as of November 20) will ever regain the form he showed before his notorious March 2004 attack on Steve Moore. Unless Selanne and Niedermayer both decide to end their pseudo-retirement, the Ducks will need to focus more on defense.
“If you’ve got to win a game 1-0, then that’s what you do,” Pronger said. “We don’t have the same scoring prowess we had last year. We’ve got to grind to wear other teams down, impose our will on them and score goals, playing physical and creating turnovers and all those little things we do well when we’re playing our style of hockey.”
Pronger is getting help on defense from Francois Beauchemin, whose ice time has increased since Niedermayer left to a league-high average of nearly 29 minutes per night. Getting Mathieu Schneider back from a fractured ankle on November 1 has also been a plus. But still, Anaheim’s hyper-physical and sometimes undisciplined style is creating problems. The Ducks are the NHL’s most-penalized team, but their penalty kill is only operating at around 80% efficiency.
“When we kill penalties right now, we’re not getting the breaks,” Pronger said. “When the puck’s hitting somebody or hitting a stick, it seems to go right to an opposing player. Anyway, we’ve obviously got to work a lot harder at killing penalties if we’re going to take that many.”
“We need everybody to raise the level of their game by 10 or 15 percent, and that’s what we’re asking,” said coach Randy Carlyle.
Even with the loss of Ilya Bryzgalov to Phoenix on waivers, Anaheim should still have one of the NHL’s best netminding tandems with 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy winner J-S Giguere and Swiss newcomer Jonas Hiller. But without more consistency from Ducks forwards and defensemen, odds are good that in the new NHL where parity rules, some other team will be drinking champagne in June.