The post-NHL trading deadline hiccup that so many teams eventually undergo is always a fascinating exercise to monitor, because in the moment, there is a sky-is-falling frenzy associated with it.
Take the Anaheim Ducks, for example. Last week, they lost consecutive games in ugly fashion – first, at home to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs and then more troubling, a few days later, to the Calgary Flames, a game in which they gave up seven goals to an injury-depleted rebuilding team that outworked and outplayed them all night.
With the San Jose Sharks closing fast in the West, Anaheim’s swoon had disaster written all over it.
The Ducks proceeded to win their next two – on the road in Colorado, in a game which featured a record six-goal, middle-period outburst and more tellingly, Saturday, on the road against the Los Angeles Kings. Not much of a road trip granted, but the Staples Centre hasn’t been too kind to the Ducks lately – five losses in a row prior to this game, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau noting it was his first win there since taking over the team. It means that since the Olympic break ended, Anaheim is 4-2-2 – not the sort of pace they’d been on previously when they raced out to the NHL’s best record, but respectable all the same, and actually, not all that worrisome when you consider that there is still about a month to go in the season. If you’re going to have a lull, this is the time to have that lull.
There is a consistent view that for a team to do well in the playoffs, it needs to be firing on all cylinders at the end of the season, to carry that momentum into April, May and June. The reality is, sometimes that’s true and other times it isn’t.
Last year, among teams that made the playoffs, the Boston Bruins were the coldest team in the final 10 games, going 3-5-2 in the aftermath of a controversial trading-deadline muck-up in which it looked as if they’d acquired Jarome Iginla from Calgary but then ultimately lost him to their main conference rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh was the opposite of the ice-cold Bruins, humming along nicely. Even with team captain Sidney Crosby absent with that broken jaw, the Penguins finished the season 8-2 and looked as if they were the team to beat in the playoffs. Iginla was good for the Pens (11 points in 13 regular-season games for his new team) and Brenden Morrow was great (14 points in 15 games for a player that looked as if he were fading).
The Penguins looked stacked, while the Bruins barely escaped the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. But of course, they did escape and they got better and by the time the teams met in the third round, Boston had it going and Pittsburgh looked flat. It ended in four – an ugly finish to a season that held so much promise for the Penguins.
Accordingly, reading too much into anything that happens right now, especially to teams such as Pittsburgh and Boston who are clearly the class of the Eastern Conference, can be dangerous. Right now, last year’s roles are reversed. It is Boston that’s red-hot, Pittsburgh ice cold, after a pair of back-to-back weekend losses to the Philadelphia Flyers in which they were swept by their Pennsylvania rivals.
Boston, meanwhile, is going great guns, with Iginla leading the way in the goal-scoring department after two more in Saturday’s win gave him 23 on the season, good for the team lead. Boston is 16-2-3 in its last 21 games and the line of Iginla, David Krejci and Milan Lucic has produced 47 points in the past 47 games. Iginla has six game-winning goals in all this season and that slow start (only four goals in his first 24 games) seems like a long ago occurrence.