There’s an almost endless repository of statistics that illustrate how bad the Ducks have played in their first three regular-season games. They have been outscored 13-2 and outshot 145-72. Their 43.0 faceoff percentage ranks 29th in the NHL, their 48.3 penalty minutes per game 30th.
Most importantly, a team that pledged to avoid another typical early-season swoon is off to an 0-3 start. If there is a hockey-statistical equivalent of the word acrid, just take your pick.
The good news – and there was some good news after Monday’s 5-1 loss in St. Louis – is that the Ducks got to come home in advance of Wednesday’s home opener against the Vancouver Canucks. By then they will probably have added a veteran to help on defense, Andreas Lilja, and have the potential for an opening-night atmosphere that tends to make visiting teams uncomfortable – the same atmosphere the Ducks faced Friday and Saturday in Detroit and Nashville, respectively.
In addition to the aforementioned woes that do show up in a stat sheet, the most chronic, damaging flaw that reappeared Monday is the Ducks’ inability to start a rush out of their own zone under even minimal defensive pressure.
The patchwork blue line of Lubomir Visnovsky, Cam Fowler, Paul Mara, Sheldon Brookbank, Brendan Mikkelson, Brett Festerling and Luca Sbisa (who was curiously scratched in St. Louis for the second time in three games) is the primary culprit. Already down one veteran defenseman since training camp began (Toni Lydman, who traveled with the team but hasn’t been cleared for contact drills), the Ducks will learn the extent of Andy Sutton’s injury on Tuesday. Lilja, a 35-year-old veteran, was quickly inked Sunday to a one-year, $600,000 contract.
The 18-year-old Fowler, a bright spot in losses to Detroit and Nashville, made his share of poor decisions against the Blues. Still, the fact that Fowler was not a minus player until Monday, when he led all players in time on ice (25:22) — in a game the Ducks played short-handed for a whopping 16:17 — is amazing.
The game itself was a forgettable display of tomfoolery with enough combined penalty minutes (143) to make the Broad Street Bullies blush. Bobby Ryan, Sheldon Brookbank and Paul Mara each collected separate 10-minute misconducts; Mara’s came when he stepped in to fight for Ryan Getzlaf after Getzlaf took his helmet off to fight Brad Boyes with 3:00 left in the second period. (On TV, it appeared that Getzlaf did nothing else and still got 2 minutes in the box for roughing. It was that kind of night.)
The Blues, a 42-year-old franchise, scored the fastest back-to-back goals in team history when David
Backes and former Duck Andy McDonald scored six seconds apart in the
That gave St. Louis a blink-and-you-missed-it 2-0 lead it would not relinquish. The Ducks’ lone goal again came from Saku Koivu, who got help when Jason Blake forced a bad Blues pass from behind the net directly onto Koivu’s stick. The power-play tally briefly pulled the Ducks within 3-1 in the second period. Perhaps the next-best Ducks highlight was actually its penalty killing unit, which allowed just one goal in nine short-handed shifts spanning that 16-minute, 17-second abyss.
Jonas Hiller started and stopped 30 of 34 shots. He was yanked in favor of Curtis McElhinney after allowing a one-timer from Matt D’Agostini to whistle over his glove at 15:51 of the second period. McElhinney was solid in relief, stopping 18 of 19.
The forwards, while not immune from the careless mistakes that are infecting the defense, have at least proven capable of sustaining a shift or completing a rush when they have the puck. Getting them the puck quickly will be key – probably the key to creating more chances and narrowing the gap in shots for and shots against.
(For the record, the Ducks lost that statistic in a landslide Monday, 14-53.)