Although the season is only two games old, the Anaheim Ducks have been as lame as the pun in this article's headline.
When Brian Burke, the GM who helped construct the Stanley Cup-winning edition of this squad, headed northeast for his next biggest challenge, he gave the keys to successor Bob Murray. A dozen or so players were scheduled to become UFAs at season's end, giving Murray plenty of options for both the rest of last season and the years beyond.
The new GM wasted no time. Gone from 2007's immortalized roster are a top-six winger, the entire checking line, and every defenseman not named Scott Niedermayer.
A promising, younger group was brought in and instantly revitalized the franchise, helping the Ducks not only make the playoffs, but also pull off a shocking series victory over the San Jose Sharks, fresh off a 117-point season that earned them the President's Trophy.
This new life, combined with the addition of players who seemed to address the team's most glaring need (secondary scoring), gave plenty of hope for the 2009-2010 edition of the Ducks. The only question was if the team is as good as it looks on paper.
So far, not so much.
As already stated, there are still 80 games left on the schedule; plenty of time for the club to identify and fix any issues. It's not the two losses that are troubling, however, as much as the way those games were lost.
Many fans wondered if, with the departures of minute-munchers Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin for cap-clearing reasons, the added offense came at the expense of what has become the staple of the Ducks since changing their look, the defense. Early on, it looks like Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewksi are ready to fill in as much of the offensive gap from the blue line as possible (let's face it, you just don't replace a player like Pronger unless you have a time or cloning machine).
Whitney looks great on the power-play point and seems to be listening to coach Randy Carlyle's advice to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. He has already been awarded for his efforts with at least a point in each game.
His even-strength partner matched his two assists in the second game and seems to have the same combination of offensive ability and aggressiveness as the man he essentially replaced, Beauchemin.
It is the defensive capabilities of this blue line corps that distinguishes them from their predecessors, which is to be expected given the experience and skill of the latter.
Unfortunately, no one reflects this better than the captain himself, who has an uncharacteristic -2 rating already. But what do you expect from a guy who is mentoring every other teammate that plays his position and is averaging over 27 minutes—yes, he's playing almost half the game—each night.
The blame can't be placed solely on the blue line, however.
No goals have come from what has to be considered one of the top lines in the league.
In the home opener, only a defenseman was able to find the back of the net, and it wasn't until midway through the third, when the Sharks already had the 4-1 win all but sealed.
Tuesday night in Minnesota, the Ducks raced to a three-goal lead, but only one of those markers was produced by the top line, and it was actually newcomer Evgeny Artyukhin who scored off the nice feed from Ryan Getzlaf.
Even if the team starts to allow less than four goals per game, it won't matter if they don't have their top scorers doing just that.
Perhaps both of these issues can be addressed by looking at just one stat: shots on goal.
Not only did the Sharks double up on their division rivals in the first period, but in the next frame, they out-shot them 17-2—and those two shots didn't even come until the last minute-and-a-half of the period.
The Ducks seemed to have learned their lesson, as they turned the tables and doubled up on San Jose in the final frame.
I said "seemed" there because of what happened in Minnesota.
The first 40 minutes were pretty even, with each team trading 10-7 shots-on-goal leads. It was the third period, one in which the Ducks came in leading 3-0, where it all fell apart once again.
There's an old adage in hockey that a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous because the team that's ahead will simply sit back and, in doing so, give the opponent a chance to come back.
The Ducks must have been even more self-assured with the extra goal, then, as they not only let the Wild back in the game by matching their two-shots-on-goal mark of futility, but also eventually let them score four unanswered goals in what has to be the biggest collapse of the season so far.
I can't emphasize enough of how this is only a very early look at Anaheim, but if these key issues are left unaddressed, the Ducks will be in for a very early end to their season.
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