On the eve of today’s game in Denver, with about a month to go in the regular season, the Ducks are in a roughly similar position to a year ago.
The 2009-10 team started slowly, climbed up to ninth place in the standings in February, and were three points out of eighth place by March 1. This year’s group started slowly, climbed as high as third in February, and were three points out of eighth place by March 1. The Ducks could be sitting in eighth place again tonight if they beat the Avalanche. (Of course, so could the Stars, Kings or Wild, depending on how things go.)
Beyond the numbers on paper, it’s tough to make direct comparisons to last year. After all, there was that little two-week tournament in Vancouver.
“We didn’t come back out of (the Olympic break) the way that we should,” head coach Randy Carlyle said. “It was hard for us to develop that energy again. Five losses in a row really sunk us.”
That 0-4-1 stretch immediately following the Olympic break dropped the Ducks from ninth to 14th in the conference standings.
Of course, “Olympic break” is a bit of a misnomer. Five players (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Scott Niedermayer, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Whitney, who was traded to Edmonton for another Olympian, Lubomir Visnovsky, upon his return) competed in the gold-medal game Feb. 28. Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu captured the bronze medal with Team Finland the day before.
On March 3, all of them were playing the Colorado Avalanche.
“Some guys were trying to play through injuries,” Ryan said. “Some guys felt fatigued more than others (who didn’t play in the Olympics).
“You were so deflated after the Olympics. It was such an emotional ride. It took you a week to regroup.”
Ryan said the team’s attitude toward the final 15 games this season is quite different: “We don’t look at it as anything other than another group of games we have to win.”
There are reasons for optimism, too. With the exception of Jason Blake, who isn’t expected to return until Sunday at the earliest, no skater is dealing with a major injury. Jonas Hiller is still suffering his strange symptoms of dizziness and disorientation, but Dan Ellis (4-1-1, 2.25 GAA since the trade) has picked up the slack.
Recent wins against the New York Rangers, Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings — all playoff teams if the season ended today — added both confidence and points. The victories against the Stars and Wings were both in overtime, and both saw the Ducks come from behind to win.
March is already off to a better start than it was this time a year ago.
“I don’t think the feeling was as good last year,” Ryan said. “Everything that could have gone wrong did.”