In a perfect world the Anaheim Ducks would only be required to show up for the third period and begin their season in February.
Ever since their Stanley Cup season in 2006-07, the Ducks, like clockwork, have gotten off to slow starts. Their record through 17 games the past five seasons is a combined 36-38-11.
That includes a 6-8-3 start to this season, with only two victories in their past 12 games after Sunday’s dud, a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild at home.
Expectations were hardly grand for Anaheim this season, yet it has managed to become one of the early disappointments this season.
A team with Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne ranks dead last in scoring at two goals a game. The Ducks have given up the first goal nine times in 17 games and their third-ranked power play unit from last season is 23rd.
On Sunday they fell into a 3-0 hole against the 29th-worst scoring team in the league, and there weren’t many answers given in a funereal locker room afterward.
“I don’t know what we’re doing wrong in our preparation, but it’s got to change,” Selanne said. “We all feel that we can play well, but we just have to find a way to do it. Right now it’s just costing us games. Forty minutes is not enough. You pretty much get what you deserve.”
Selanne pointed out the worst-kept secret within the Ducks: They lack confidence, and when the opposition takes an early lead they fold like a tent.
Coach Randy Carlyle last week called on his veterans to help them dig out of this hole. Not much more can be asked from Selanne, who leads the team in scoring with 15 points.
But the inconsistency of the Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry line, often tabbed as the best in the NHL, is an issue. When they don’t score Anaheim is exposed as a top-heavy team that wobbles badly when its No. 1 line isn’t firing.
Getzlaf and Perry have a combined two goals the past eight games while Ryan has three goals in his past 13.
“We’re leaning heavily on those people to play to a higher level,” Carlyle said.
“As an organization and coaching staff, we’re not dumping on those guys. It’s just that our results are driven by the core of your group and those are your core players. We have to find a way to motivate, stimulate to get this group to play to a higher level than what they’re playing at now. That’s what’s frustrating for everybody because we know what kind of players they are. We’ve had them for a number of years. We’ve had them through thick and thin. These are the type of players you want on your side.”
History suggests that the line will get going, but the path getting there comes with another uphill hike to at least Christmas.
“On paper you look at this team and we should be doing a lot better than we are,” defenseman Cam Fowler said. “The paper only says so much. It’s up to us right now to rally around each other and really get behind each other … it starts on Wednesday. We should be going into those games like Stanley Cup Finals Game 7.”
General manager Bob Murray isn’t one to stand still during turmoil and his loyalty to Carlyle is unquestioned.
Murray made a small move Monday when he claimed three-time 20-goal scorer Niklas Hagman on re-entry waivers.
The Ducks could also use a defenseman because they don’t have an NHL-ready blue line prospect in their system, and Anaheim has a cadre of young forwards that could serve as movable pieces if it continues a start that is poor by the low standards.
Selanne returned for his 18th season at 41 because he was having too much fun. After the game Sunday, he sat at his stall in an empty Ducks locker room and appeared glum in front of a small group of local media.
“It’s funny,” he said. “We work really hard and you think you’re back and then it’s another disappointment after that. We just have to get everything out on the game days.”
But the ever-optimistic Selanne struck such a tone.
“We can do better, way better, and we’re going to do it. I’m still very, very positive about this group. I know these guys. We will do it," he said.
Pacific Division notes:
Dallas joined Anaheim as Pacific teams to lose a key defenseman with Alex Goligoski’s broken thumb that will keep him out about a month. Goligoski suffered the injury during the first period of a 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Friday. . . . Look for Los Angeles to get its offense going as Drew Doughty gets back up to speed. Kings coach Terry Murray acknowledged that Doughty was significantly set back from his late signing and subsequent injury but Doughty has two goals and five points with a plus-1 rating over his past five games. . . . San Jose made it a point to improve its 24th-ranked penalty killing unit from last season but it has gotten worse with a 27th-ranked unit that allowed the game-tying goal in a 4-3 overtime loss against Nashville on Nov. 5. . . . Remember Patrick O’Sullivan, the former 20-goal scorer who is with his fifth team in six seasons? O’Sullivan has carved out a fourth-line role with Phoenix and he got a goal in a 3-0 win against San Jose last Saturday that also was Mike Smith’s first shutout as a Coyote.