Randy Carlyle has been here before.
As head coach in 2006, six of his Mighty Ducks players were named to their respective national teams to take part in the Winter Olympics. Only five were actually affected by the extra workload, since Scott Niedermayer did not play for Team Canada because of an injury.
But the circumstances (if not the uniforms) were similar at the time of the last Olympic break – Anaheim was in ninth place in the Western Conference standings, on the cusp of a playoff berth, and staring down a 25-game fight to the finish once the Games were over. The club proceeded to go 16-8-1 and improve to sixth place by the end of the season.
Barring a miracle, history will not repeat itself this year.
At this rate the Ducks might want to dedicate their 2009-10 season obituary to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who may have sealed their playoff fate with a 5-2 win on Tuesday night at Honda Center. Plenty of things went wrong in the game for the Ducks, but to list them all would obscure the bigger picture: They simply haven’t looked like a playoff team since the Olympics ended.
“We seem to be a very flat hockey club,” Carlyle said after Tuesday’s game. He could have said the same thing after Sunday’s game (a 4-3 loss to Montreal), or Saturday’s (a 4-0 loss in Phoenix), or last Wednesday’s (a 4-3 loss to Colorado).
“For whatever reason,” he continued, “we didn’t seem to be able to provide any energy for any extended period of time.”
In each game since the break, the Ducks have had lapses lasting at least a full period. Tuesday’s effort was particularly vexing because it came against a Columbus team that had lost five straight, and was playing without its best player, Rick Nash.
After 40 minutes of lackluster hockey, Anaheim awoke in the third period to outshoot the Blue Jackets 17-4. Shots by Lubomir Visnovsky and Ryan Getzlaf got past Mathieu Garon, and the goaltender was screened on both – something he didn’t have to deal with in the first two periods.
“I think everybody just got mad enough to wake up,” Bobby Ryan said of the third-period surge. “We had an abysmal second period. Curtis (McElhinney) comes in and you want to battle for him, give him a chance and get back in the game. We’ve seen spurts of what we can do, they’re just not long enough.”
But in a must-win situation, why weren’t the Ducks mad from the start?
“That’s the magic question,” Ryan said.
If the answer has anything to do with an emotional letdown after the Olympics, it would be unique to this year’s Ducks team.
One theory: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jonas Hiller and Ryan – all of whom play leading roles for the Ducks – are coming off their first Olympic Games. In 2006, Sammy Pahlsson and Vitaly Vishnevsky were the team’s only first-time Olympians, and both could be considered “supporting” players, averaging less than 17 minutes per game.
Coincidence or not, Carlyle said there was no similar letdown with the 2006 squad.
“Right now, it’s got everybody shaking their head,” he said. “(The players) are shaking their heads. There isn’t one guy in there who doesn’t want to win. It’s been very frustrating for a lot of people. The one thing that we have to do is stay together on this, rally around one another.”