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.
Even with Pittsburgh's current slump, it seems as if the Penguins and Bruins are destined to meet again in these playoffs, this time with Iginla on the Boston side, and still seeking the first Stanley Cup of his career – which is why he left Calgary for Pittsburgh as year ago, thinking that might give him his best chance to do so. It would be a fascinating drama to see how a renewal of that rivalry plays out this year – and who ends up holding the upper hand.
WHAT'S UP DUCKS? – Anaheim managed its 2-1 win over the Kings without Teemu Selanne in the lineup. Boudreau is sticking with his plan of not playing Selanne in back-to-back games. However, he tried something new on Friday versus Colorado, shifting Selanne to the left side on a line with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. With this move, he's hoping to solve two problems: one, filling that spot, which is up for grabs in the aftermath of the Dustin Penner's trade to the Washington Capitals; and two, keeping Selanne happy with more ice time, since that has been a point of contention with him.
Selanne is averaging just 13:56 per game by far the lowest of his career. During his knee problems a decade ago, he dropped down into the 16s and even last year, during a more limited role, Selanne played about 15:42.
He believes he needs to play more to be effective and cited as proof the Olympics, in which he played on a top line for Finland and had a productive tournament.
Playing out of position is something Selanne can likely live with if it means playing with Getzlaf and Perry, although it remains to be seen if any chemistry develops on the unit, or even how long Boudreau will keep it together. It's an interesting week for the Ducks. Washington comes in, with Penner in the lineup on Tuesday, and that of course is Boudreau's old team, the one that fired him back in 2011 and has been in a downward spiral ever since.
Meanwhile, Getzlaf indicated that first place is a goal. The Ducks and Sharks will probably go down to the wire and historically, first place, while it gives you home-ice advantage, doesn't guarantee a team anything. Chicago won last year with home-ice all the way through the playoffs; and Los Angeles won the year before starting every series on the road.
"In order for us to hit the playoffs in our stride, we'd like to be in first," said Getzlaf. "I think that means we've earned it all season long and we don't want to let that slip away at the end of the year here. It's a goal of ours for sure. Is it the end of the world if we don't? No. It means we get home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and that's what we're looking for."
The Ducks defeated the Kings, despite Cam Fowler's absence. Fowler has been their No. 1 defenceman all year, averaging a team high 23:54 of time. Only Francois Beauchemin is close. The Ducks will likely welcome Stephane Robidas, acquired from the Dallas Stars, at the trading deadline into their lineup, perhaps as early as Tuesday and he will be expected to play a shutdown role for them, once he gets his game conditioning back. Robidas hasn't played since breaking his leg back in November.
"It's a great turnaround for us after a rough patch there where we weren't very good," said Getzlaf, following Saturday's win. "Some of those games, we played hard, but we played just well enough to lose. Then we played a few where we didn't deserve to win. Obviously, Calgary was the low point for us. Our guys dug deep here - and played two good hockey games against two great teams."
THIS AND THAT: One of the reasons the St. Louis Blues believed they could trade David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers was the idea that a pair of youngsters, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz, were ready to stay up and play more prominent roles on the team. Both responded with 20-goal seasons, helping to balance the team's scoring, but they had some bad news Sunday, when it was learned that Tarasenko will require surgery on his right hand, injured in a 4-1 win over Nashville, and would miss a minimum of six weeks. It means the Blues will need to muddle along without him, likely through the first round of the playoffs, possibly longer … The NHL announced that last Monday's postponed game between the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets would be rescheduled for Apr. 9. The original game was stopped at 6:23 of the first period following a medical emergency to the Stars' Rich Peverley. The game will be played for the full 60 minutes of regulation, plus any potential overtime, but the Blue Jackets will be ahead 1-0 – the score at the time played was stopped. The league established a similar precedent in a Nov. 21, 2005 game between Detroit and Nashville that involved a similar medical emergency involving Detroit's Jiri Fischer … Russia's Kontinental Hockey League is nearing the end of the first round of its playoffs, with the No. 8 seeded team, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, pushing top-seeded Moscow Dynamo to the limit, with a 6-0 win in Game 6. Yaroslavl is being coached by Canadian Dave King … The Detroit Red Wings may get centre Darren Helm back this week and if that doesn't sound like a big deal, think of it this way. Helm will slot in on a two-top role – behind David Legwand – because of injuries that have sidelined, among others, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Stephen Weiss. The fact that Detroit is still scratching out wins and staying within hailing distance of a playoff spot is reminiscent of last year, when they did it as well, and then knocked off a higher-seeded Anaheim team and had Chicago on the ropes before ultimately faltering. The Red Wings scare everybody just because it they make it and they get healthy, they will be a dangerous lower-seeded team again … The Red Wings have made the playoffs for 22 consecutive seasons … Pittsburgh right winger James Neal is out again, this time with a concussion. When healthy, Neal has been productive this year (49 points in 44 games). Brian Gibbons slots into his spot on the line with Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen … Calgary hasn't had much of a reason to celebrate this year, but the Flames do lead the NHL in one category – shorthanded goals. They have 11 this year, four from Mikael Backlund, who is tied with the Bruins' Brad Marchand and the Lightning's Tyler Johnson for the NHL lead. Backlund had not scored a shorthanded goal in his first 170 NHL games prior to this year.
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