The Canadiens begin a three-games-in-four-nights West Coast swing on Wednesday in Anaheim, where the 15th place Ducks (6-13-4, 12 points south of a playoff spot) are splashing in the water but not going anywhere.
With only one win in the month of November, only two wins in their last 18 (plus four points for regulation ties — six points of a possible 36), it’s safe to say this team is in free fall.
Want more? They average 2.13 goals a game, 29th in the league. They allow an average of 3.17 goals a game, 26th in the league. Their goal differential is -26, tied with the Islanders for worst in the NHL. In these last 18 games, they’ve scored two goals or fewer 12 times, allowed four or more goals nine times, and given up 24 goals in the past five games alone.
And they don’t display much resiliency: In the 12 games where they have given up the first goal and trailed at the end of the first period, they have yet to come back and win, the only team in the league to not come back at least once when surrendering the first goal or trailing after one period.
It’s a mess.
Observers seems shocked at all this, given the talent on the roster and the esteem in which coach Randy Carlyle is held and there is always the expectation the Ducks could break out of it at any time and start to turn things around.
There are rumours, however, that big changes are afoot if they can’t, rumors that could slap the Ducks to attention.
Unable to pull his team out of its nosedive, Carlyle is thought to be not far from joining Davis Payne, Bruce Boudreau and Paul Maurice in the Dead Coaches Society, despite the contract extension he got in the offseason. Sniper Bobby Ryan is supposedly on the trading block. Both those moves are supposedly being considered to shake up the team, although just which direction GM Bob Murray will go is unknown. And, most likely, nothing may happen by game time on Wednesday.
Anaheim’s problems start in goal, where Jonas Hiller, who had Tim Thomas-like numbers in the first half of last season, could be suffering the rusty after-effects of missing half of last season with vertigo. He has allowed fewer than three goals only once in his last nine starts and his season numbers have soared — a 3.22 GAA and .897 PCT. He’s still getting the bulk of the starts, Carlyle perhaps hoping he’ll play his way back into shape.
Backup Dan Ellis has three starts and three relief appearances, but he’s now injured and ex-Oiler Jeff Deslauriers has been recalled to back up Hiller.
The defence corps has been hampered by the injury to power play QB Lubomir Visnovsky. The Ducks haven’t won since he broke his finger on Nov. 11, the date of their last victory, although — truth be told — he hadn’t recorded a point in his previous eight games or that night either. Visnovsky had 18 goals and 68 points last season, but just four points in 15 games this season.
There are some big minus stats on the blue line: Cam Fowler is minus-13 (tied for team-worst with Ryan Getzlaf) even though he’s got 12 points to lead all defencemen; Tony Lydman is minus-11 — he was plus-32 last year; Francois Beauchemin is minus-7. ‘
But it’s up front where the problems are most obvious. Not with ageless future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne, who is as effective as ever; not really with Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, a 50-goal scorer last year, who has 10 now which puts him on pace for a decent 35 (more in line with his career average). But captain Getzlaf is struggling mightily, with only four goals and 12 assists to go along with the massive minus, not playing well either with or without the puck.
Ryan, a 34 goal, 71 point scorer last season, has only seven goals and 11 points, which projects to about half his previous year’s total. He’s been demoted to third line duty by Carlyle.
Former Habs captain Saku Koivu is heating up a bit with five points in his last five games. But on the season, he has only totaled four goals and 11 points. Speedy linemate Andrew Cogliano also has five in his last five, but only had four points before that.
Strangely, the Ducks’ special teams have not flopped. Their power play is mid-pack, clicking 16.3 percent of the time, better than the Canadiens’ 12.8 percent. Their penalty kill ranks eighth, 85.6 percent, not terribly far behind the Habs second ranked penalty kill at 90.6.
But five-on-five, Anaheim has scored only 34 goals and surrendered 51, both 27th in the league.
Here’s how the Ducks lined up practice on Tuesday, with Ryan demoted to the third line.
Matt Beleskey, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano, Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne
Bobby Ryan, Ben Maxwell, Niklas Hagman
Andrew Gordon, Maxime Macenauer, Devante Smith-Pelly
Toni Lydman, Cam Fowler
Francois Beauchemin, Luca Sbisa
Sheldon Brookbank, Nate Guenin