The Ducks are eight games into the season and so far it’s been a disappointing beginning. With almost 10% of the regular season over, the Ducks will look at the standings and see they are in a place that few would have predicted. They are in last place of the suddenly very competitive Pacific Division and the only team in the West with fewer points in the than the Ducks’ seven is the Minnesota Wild with four points, two of which came against the Ducks. Ouch.
So the first question is “who can we blame?” Unfortunately there is no person that can be pointed at for the Ducks’ failures in the young season. General Manager Bob Murray has put together a team that should be scoring three or four goals per game but the Ducks aren’t anywhere near that. Coach Randy Carlyle hasn’t made any changes to his system and the only part of the coaching staff that changed was the goalie coach, but Jonas Hiller has been extremely solid in net anyway. J.S. Giguere has given up some soft goals but hasn’t got the playing time to work out his game, so the issue is not in goal.
That leaves only one thing. Well, maybe 20. The blame for the early season can be put on no one but the players themselves. The superstars have been useless and the role players seem to have forgotten their roles. There are only a few exceptions, like Saku Koivu who has played his heart out on every shift for the Ducks. I almost feel bad watching Koivu play for the Ducks because he hasn’t had any help the entire season. Another player that can’t really be blamed is Joffrey Lupul, who you can see is skating hard and trying his best on every shift.
But the top line of Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry has been a huge disappointment. There have been few games where those three have had control of the puck below the goal line, something the trio needs to have in order to be successful. And it’s not that the opposition has learned to play against the three. The line looks, well, tired. How can a line of two 24 year-olds and a 22 year old look tired at the beginning of the season? That’s easy. They’re just not working hard enough.
Though they might look tired, I can assure you they’re not. But it looks like they’ve fallen into the same habits that most young players do, namely forgetting that you have to earn everything you get. Let me give you an example: how many times have you seen either of the three take a hit to maintain possession this season? The answer is zero. Last season, and the season before as well, the top line was not afraid to fore-check hard and take some hits to let a teammate pick up the puck. But this season has seen the three step aside or make risky stick-handling plays that don’t work against the top defensive pairings.
But that’s only three players. Let’s move on to the second line, where Teemu Selanne has decided to show up only in flashes, pardon the pun, and disappear for most other games. Sure, he won the Philadelphia game on his own. But what else has he done? He’s tied for 462nd place in the NHL in assists this season. Incidentally, that means he has exactly ZERO assists to go with his four goals. Not terrible, but not Teemu either. Selanne has no points and is a minus-4 in the last four games.
OK…but what about he wily veteran Todd Marchant? The same one who just signed a two-year contract with the Ducks this offseason after he didn’t get the third year he was seeking from any other team? Well, he’s been pretty much non-existent the entire season and hasn’t lived up to that contract. He plays about 15 minutes per game, which is a significant amount, and has no points to show for it. That’s not even the worst part. Through the Ducks’ eight games, he has only SEVEN shots, and four of them came in one game against the Rangers. Marchant is a minus-1 so far this season.
What about our beloved George Parros? Surely he has been a warrior and as steady as always. Well, not exactly. Parros has been involved in exactly two fights this season, losing the first one in decisive fashion to John Scott and and ending up bloodied in the second one Wednesday night. But don’t take my word for it: check out the videos and ratings on hockeyfights.com here and here.
Mike Brown has done pretty well in the few minutes he’s played this season, but is capable of so much more with his speed. I’ll spare him of any criticism since he has one assist, which is one more than Selanne. Ryan Carter has also played well in his limited time on the ice. It’s no secret that I think the fourth line has been the best line for the Ducks, and with the exception of some lost fights by Parros, the three have played solid hockey.
That leaves Evgeny Artyukhin, Erik Christensen, and Petteri Nokelainen among the forwards. I’ve written on multiple occasions about Artyukhin’s addiction to sitting in the penalty box and how it will cost the Ducks in the long-run. You can insert your own criticism here since everyone seems to think he’s not skating or hitting as much as he should.
But I’ll give Christensen and Nokelainen a pass since they’ve had such limited action this year as a result of their injuries. I’m usually not shy about calling players out and you can be sure I will if they don’t pick it up like everyone else needs to.
That brings us to the defense. Everyone knew the Ducks would suffer a bit with Chris Pronger and Francois Beachemin gone, but it wasn’t supposed to be this bad. It all starts with Scott Niedermayer who is still supposed to be one of the premier defensemen in the NHL. Instead he’s put together a campaign in which he has no goals, just three assists, and a team worst minus-6 rating. He’s playing like a player that’s past his prime and doesn’t want to play for team Canada in the Olympics in February, and I although this isn’t a bold prediction by any means, it’s easy to see that this will probably be Niedermayer’s final season.
Let’s move on to the teenager that was supposed to be Niedermayer’s partner – Luca Sbisa. To be honest, there is so much that can be said about Sbisa that it deserves its own entry, and I’ll certainly make one this weekend, but I will say that he hasn’t lived up to his promise and is clearly not an NHL defenseman yet.
Nick Boynton was supposed to help the Ducks replace some of the grit lost on the back end, but in order for him to do that he needs to play some games. Boynton has played in just half of the Ducks’ games and earned one assist while taking only one shot on goal while playing to an even plus-minus rating. Boynton certainly provides that grit and makes opposing players think twice before going near the crease, but Boynton is a step behind the rest of the Ducks players with regards to speed. I know I wrote about how slow the top line looks, but Boynton is a full step behind even that. He would be great if he were used in a strictly penalty killing role.
I’ll put Sheldon Brookbank in the same boat as Boynton. He’s been playing mediocre hockey since the preseason, but at least he doesn’t cost as much. Brendan Mikkelson is playing like the 21 year old defenseman he is, which is to say that he makes great plays and terrible plays in the same shift. The same can be said of Sbisa, but Mikkelson is a much better option at this point. Steve Eminger has been anything but spectacular, but steady enough to keep himself in the lineup. He’ll probably keep shifting around until they can find a good fit for him.
You’ve probably noticed I didn’t mention Ryan Whitney or James Wisniewski. That’s because these two have been the best combination, either at forward or defense, that the Ducks have had this season. They are great complimentary players, both have hard shots, and both have grit in their game. They’ll give some face washes or shoves after the whistle and will get their shots on goal. They’re leading the team in plus-minus with a combined plus-9 rating and 10 points in 13 games. You can’t really say anything negative about the games the pair have played.
So who’s at fault? The short answer is the players. With the exception of a few Ducks players noted above, many of who were not on the Ducks at the start of last season, the rest of the team has not been working hard enough. Part of that is the coaching staff, and Carlyle has admitted it as well, so perhaps a different approach is the antidote. I, for one, think the coaches have been too kind in practice. They’ve tried the kind, gentle approach so far and it hasn’t worked. Now it’s time to pull out the whip and force them to work since they won’t do it on their own.