By Stu Hackel
The rumor-mongers are mongering and the buzzards are circling the wounded Ducks that are limping around in Anaheim, all fully expecting their coach to be sacrificed or a big name player to be shipped out. Maybe something will happen, maybe it won't, but there's a game to be played on Wednesday night against Montreal and another chance to turn the season around. It may, however, be too late.
UPDATE: After defeating the Canadiens 4-1, their first victory in seven games and first victory of the season in which they surrendered the opening goal, the Ducks fired head coach Randy Carlyle and replaced him with Bruce Boudreau, who had just been fired as coach of the Capitals on Monday.
When we discussed the Wild on Tuesday, we noted they are one of the NHL's surprise teams. Well, so are the Ducks, but in a bad way. No one -- no one -- could have expected that a team with this much talent would fall this flat.
Going into the game against Montreal, Anaheim had only one win in the month of November, and only two wins in its last 18 games. Add the four points for regulation ties and that's six of a possible 36 points. The Ducks average 2.13 goals per game, good for 29th in the league. They allow an average of 3.17 , which ranks 26th. Their goal differential is -26, tied with the Islanders for worst in the NHL. In thief last 18 games, the Ducks have scored two goals or fewer 12 times, allowed four or more nine times, and given up 24 in their past five outings alone.
That's nearly flatlining.
How this is possible is a mystery even to those you'd expect would be able to explain it. Following Anaheim's 5-2 loss to Toronto on Saturday, these were the reactions:
The essence, according to Teemu Selanne, is that there's "really is no answer. It seems to me that nothing works. When things go bad, they really go bad."
The same mistakes night after night, he added. "There's no mental toughness."
"Mind boggling," added coach Randy Carlyle.
The lack of mental toughness is backed up by the stats. Selanne mentioned that when the Ducks score first, they inevitably blow the lead. In fact, they've gotten the first goal 11 times this season and have only won six of those games, a .545 percentage. Twenty-three teams have a higher percentage.
But the real absence of resolve shows when an opponent scores first against the Ducks: In the 12 games where they have given up the first goal or trailed at the end of the first period, they have yet to come back and win. They are the only team in the league not to do so at least once.
"When adversity happens we haven't bounced back from it," says Saku Koivu. "We're not executing the way we're not supposed to. We're not on the same page."
Anaheim’s problems start in goal, where Jonas Hiller, who had Tim Thomas-like numbers the first half of last season, could be suffering the rusty aftereffects of missing the second half with vertigo. He's allowed three goals or more in eight of his last nine starts and his season stats have soared — 3.22 GAA -- or tumbled -- .897 save percentage. He’s still getting the bulk of the starts, with Carlyle perhaps hoping that he’ll play his way back into top form.
The defense corps has been hampered by an injury to power play quarterback Lubomir Visnovsky. The Ducks haven’t won since he broke his finger on Nov. 11, the date of their last victory. But — truth be told — they weren't winning much before he got hurt and Visnovsky went nine games without registering a point before landing on the Injured Reserve list. He had 18 goals and 68 points last season, but has just four points in 15 games this season.
There are some big minus stats on the blueline: Cam Fowler is minus-13 (tied for team-worst with center Ryan Getzlaf) even though his 12 points lead all defensemen; Tony Lydman is minus-11 — he was plus-32 last season; Francois Beauchemin is minus-7. As the recent flood of goals-against indicates, the Ducks have been brutal in their third of the ice. "The act of moving the puck out of their own zone became as spine-tingling as mine sweeping," observed Mark Whicker in The Orange County Register after the loss to Toronto.
But it’s up front where the problems are most obvious. There's nothing wrong with the ageless future Hall of Famer Selanne, who is as effective as ever, nor is anything really amiss with Hart Trophy-winner Corey Perry, a 50-goal scorer last season who has 10 now. That puts him on pace for a decent 35, more in line with his career average. But captain Getzlaf is struggling mightily, with only four goals and 12 assists to go along with his massive minus. He's not playing well with or without the puck.
Bobby Ryan, the subject of most of the recent trade rumors, was a 34-goal, 71-point scorer last season. He has only seven goals and 11 points now, which projects to about half his previous totals. It appears he'll be demoted to third line duty by Carlyle for the game against the Canadiens.
Former Habs captain Koivu is heating up a bit with five points in his last five games. But on the season, he has only totaled four goals and 11 points. Koivu's speedy linemate, Andrew Cogliano, also has five in his last five, but only four points before that.
What is to be done? The whispers that Ryan is headed elsewhere make sense if you consider the Ducks would be reluctant to trade either of his usual linemates: their captain or their 50-goal guy. But Ryan isn't struggling more than anyone else on this team. He's still big and strong and, as they say, you can't teach size. There will be 29 teams lined up to bid for him, but the many supposed deals for Ryan are somewhat hampered by the fact that he has this season and three more left on a $5.1 million contract. Some teams can't take that on, and the Ducks -- who would probably want a package of NHL-ready talent in return -- have little cap room themselves.
Adding Carlyle's name to the Dead Coaches Society is also being suggested, although Selanne testified that the players back their bench boss, and believe they are the problem. GM Bob Murray pretty much said the same thing. The Ducks also just extended Carlyle's contract through 2013-14 and they're not the kind of organization that could easily chance eating that deal if he stays unemployed.
But, as the exasperation on Selanne's face and in his words reveal, the dying Ducks' situation demands some sort of remedy. Unless they can somehow start putting together full games of consistent play, those circling buzzards will surely dine on some dead Ducks.