Wednesday October 28th, 2015

There was a moment, just after his team had given up the deciding goal in a crushing 4–3 loss to Dallas, where the controller froze for Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.

That look pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? The man who started the season with the best record of anyone who has coached at least 500 NHL games—better than Scotty Bowman, Toe Blake or Mike Babcock—was dumbfounded by what he’d just seen.

Boudreau’s team hadn’t just lost to the Stars. It had its guts pulled out and splayed all over the ice.

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It should have been different. The Ducks came out flying on Tuesday night, scoring three first-period goals, exactly half of their total from the previous eight games. And then they watched—literally, watched—as the Stars battled back to tie it up. Then they gave away a desperately needed point by allowing Dallas’s fourth line to score the tiebreaker just before regulation time expired.

Of all of Anaheim’s losses this season, this one clearly cut the deepest.

“It’s a 3–0 lead. You should not lose a game like that,” Boudreau said.  “We won’t sugarcoat it—it’s demoralizing.

“I’m at a loss right now. We fell asleep [in the second], lost composure [in the third]. We can’t say we ran out of gas.”

He may not want to say it, but that may be exactly what happened. The Ducks came to Dallas after dropping an emotionally draining 1–0 decision in Chicago on Monday night. And while the finish wasn’t there, there was plenty to like about the team’s execution and effort.

“That’s the best game we’ve played all year,” Boudreau said after the loss to the Blackhawks. “We didn’t get the end result that we wanted. I mean, that’s the way we can play. We have to build on that now and not get disappointed by it.”

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And that’s exactly what they did, at least through the first 20 minutes. Playing without Ryan Getzlaf—the captain left the team suddenly on Tuesday for a non-emergency appendectomy—the Ducks looked every bit like the Stanley Cup contender many expect them to be this season.

Boudreau’s game preparation worked. The Ducks were fast, aggressive, relentless. Anaheim dominated the first period, rattling off three consecutive goals against one of the league’s toughest defenses.

And then, with Patrick Sharp’s first goal of the season, it all fell apart.

There’s no shame in getting scored on by the Stars. With the talent they dress, they’re more likely to light you up than not. But for the Ducks to fold so quickly in the face of the slightest adversity illustrates how fragile their confidence is right now. And that alone might be the signal that it’s time for general manager Bob Murray to make a change.

To be fair, though, it might also speak to the perils of playing two road games against top opponents on back-to-back nights. The Ducks wouldn’t be the first team to run out of gas in that situation.

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And viewed in a larger context, the Ducks proved themselves capable of more during the past two nights. They battled their nemesis to a 60-minute draw in Chicago, then broke the seal on a lengthy scoring drought in Dallas, getting the first goals of the season from Carl Hagelin and Shawn Horcoff in the process.

Maybe the glass isn’t quite half full. But what they showed in four of their past six periods is that it’s not quite as empty as it seems, either.

A hole as deep as they’ve dug for themselves takes some time to crawl out of. What the Ducks proved over the last two nights is that they at least know which way is up.

Will that buy Boudreau more time behind the bench? It should, but it might not buy much. The Ducks conclude their five-game road trip on Thursday night in St. Louis. How they rebound from this loss might decide Boudreau’s fate.

The numbers game

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• With their loss to Vancouver on Tuesday night, the Canadiens, who set an NHL record with nine straight regulation wins to begin the season, fell one victory short of tying the league mark for consecutive wins of any kind to open a campaign. The 1993-94 Maple Leafs and 2006-07 Sabres each went 10-0-0.

• The Wild are now 21-3-1 in their past 25 games at home against the Oilers dating back to Feb. 25, 2007.

• ​Of the 26 games that have gone to the new three-on-three overtime so far this season, 18 (69.2%) have been decided without having to resort to the shootout. Last season, under the 4-on-4 format, 136 (44.4%) of the 306 ended with an OT tally.

Hot links

• Rob Rossi says the Penguins are in serious trouble, and then does a magnificent job of trolling the team’s fans by writing this.

• Elliotte Friedman reveals the story of the craziest minor league contract ever in this week’s 30 Thoughts column.

Life is pretty sweet for rising Capitals star Evgeny Kuznetsov

• The Capitals are paying tribute to “an absolute fireball” this season.

• The odd story of Mikael Wikstrand’s preseason desertion of the Senators took an unexpected twist on Tuesday.

• Watch this and you’ll see why the world needs more of P.K. Subban.

• If you missed the Danny Briere retirement ceremony last night in Philly, here it is in its entirety.

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