Hiller still out; Koivu a game-day decision.

Curtis McElhinney and Timo Pielmeier were the only two goalies on the ice when the Ducks got back to practice Wednesday. No Ray Emery – he is still in Syracuse – and no Jonas Hiller, either.

Hiller is eligible to come off injured reserve prior to Wednesday’s game against the Kings, but that won’t happen. There seem to be mixed signals about just how long Hiller’s return from his latest ailment will take.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle sounded cautiously optimistic when he said of Hiller, “when he’s available to go on the ice, I haven’t got a timeframe for that, but we expect that to happen in the next little while. We don’t feel it’s going to be an extended period of time.”

Hiller has only played one full game since he first experienced symptoms of dizziness and light-headedness following the All-Star Game on Jan. 30. Recently, Hiller has been meeting with a therapist to deal with what the team is calling a “treatable balance issue.”

On Tuesday, he worked out off the ice then left Anaheim Ice just before his teammates finished practice. When asked for an update on his condition, the goalie didn’t offer any specifics, saying only that things are “not going the way I’d like them to.”

Still, Carlyle said it’s a “positive sign” that Hiller is being encouraged to work out and stay active, rather than completely refrain from any physical activity.
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The Ducks’ defensemen dilemma; evaluating Beauchemin.

Nine is a good number of personnel to have if you’re managing a baseball team, but if you’re counting defensemen on an NHL team, it’s best to stop at seven or eight.

Virtually unprompted, Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle was quick to note this morning that his blue line numbers nine (Carlyle had been asked where Francois Beauchemin will ultimately land in the lineup, and we’ll get to that in a bit). When the topic was brought up again later in his post-practice presser, Carlyle said that he has never dealt with that many defensemen as an NHL head coach.

The closest comparison he could draw was from his days as head coach and general manager of the Manitoba Moose, preparing for the AHL and IHL postseasons with a surplus of blue-liners.

“Some days the coach’s job is expanded a little bit, and changes on a day to day basis,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t have enough, and when you have a wealth of them it’s a pain at times, but it’s one of those pains that you’d rather have too many than too little.”
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Taking the show on the road.

The Ducks have made quite a charge up the standings and won’t be sneaking up on anyone thanks to their current 6-1-0 stretch. They’ll have Thursday and Friday to take a deep breath, let some teams make up a few games in hand, and reflect on their present perch: tied for fourth place in the Western Conference.

Eleven of their next 14 games will be on the road, where the Ducks’ record ain’t pretty – 8-11-3 compared to 16-7-1 at Honda Center. The question of whether they can keep up their torrid pace is a valid one.

“It’s a very crucial road trip coming up,” Teemu Selanne said. “It’s good motivation to try to use this time before the All-Star Break really strong.”

Selanne, as his is habit, sees the glass as half full. He points out that, through 46 games last season, the Ducks were 20-19-7 (47 points), five points behind this year’s pace (24-18-4). The Ducks have always been a second-half team and just because the second half is starting on the road, well, that shouldn’t be an obstacle. Right?
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Ducks 6, Columbus 0.

A lot of things culminated for the Ducks tonight – an awesome month for Jonas Hiller, a revamped power play, the maturation of the young defensemen, and whatever strain of influenza is running through the visitors’ dressing room.

Randy Carlyle wasn’t afraid to highlight the latter in explaining the Ducks’ most lopsided win of the season and their largest on home ice since Dec. 20, 1996, a 7-0 win over Calgary.

“We were able to establish that template,” Carlyle said. “When we do
get on the puck and establish that strong forechecking game, we are a
hockey club that can be effective. Tonight was one of those nights. We
caught Columbus when they were a flat hockey club. They had the flu go
through their team. We seemed to have a half step on them tonight.”
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Nashville 4, Ducks 1.

With 52 seconds left in the game and a puck having just crossed into an empty Ducks net, Corey Perry slammed his stick over his own goal frame, the logical reaction to a typical Nashville Predators victory.

Wednesday’s was one of those. The Ducks outshot their opponent 41-24 but had only a Saku Koivu goal – not a thing of beauty in its own right – to show for it.

The Preds never trailed in ending Anaheim’s three-game winning streak, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Jerred Smithson and Patric Hornqvist. After Koivu’s goal halved the Ducks’ deficit at 11:46 of the third, empty-net goals by Sergei Kostitsyn and Shea Weber provided the final score.

“The puck was doing funny things for us,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told reporters after the game, “and in some of the situations they beat us for 1-on-1 battles with the puck. That was really the telltale story of the game, where they won more little puck battles 1-on-1 where we should have come up with the puck.”

Nashville won its third straight game by the same score, though Anaheim played better than a three-goal difference would indicate. A few of Pekka Rinne’s 40 saves were extraordinary; he also had help from a goal frame that robbed Matt Beleskey and Lubomir Visnovsky in the third period.

Second-chance shots were few and far between, part of Nashville’s blue-collar M.O. for as long as the team has existed.

Even though he didn’t score, Maxim Lapierre had one of the Ducks’ better efforts in his first game since arriving from Montreal. Playing 15:46 while centering the first and third lines, Lapierre put four shots on goal and was one of the few black-clad players consistently charging on net.

Another player making his 2011 debut, Dan Sexton, had the primary assist on Koivu’s goal. He started the game on a third line with Lapierre and Joffrey Lupul and ended it on the second line with Koivu and Selanne.

It was one of those efforts that probably gets a team more than one goal on most nights, but didn’t Wednesday. These things happen.

A few more notes:

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Kings 4, Ducks 1.

The Ducks’ problems ran deeper than the rare four-day layoff – no games, no practices – from the time they were embarrassed in Buffalo on Tuesday to the time they were embarrassed in Los Angeles on Sunday.

The layoff couldn’t explain why the Ducks survived the first period but were walloped in the second, why the Kings knew where almost every Jonas Hiller rebound was going to end up, or why Corey Perry – the team’s leading scorer – chose to take himself out of the game for seven minutes of the third period with his team trailing 4-1.

“You expect after four days off that they will be rusty in some areas,” Randy Carlyle said, “but there was one area we were rusty in and that was competing.”

(I used that quote in the game story too and, while I don’t like to double up, a blunt Randy Carlyle cannot be quoted often enough.)

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Why only one year for Carlyle, McNab, and more.

Bob Murray’s contract as general manager of the Ducks runs through the 2011-12 season, and he wanted Randy Carlyle and David McNab to be able to say the same. Nothing more, nothing less.

“My experience has taught me that nobody goes past me,” Murray said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon to announce the contract extensions for Carlyle and McNab. “That goes back to something from a previous job where I was gone and some people were left in some very uncomfortable positions when I was gone. Good and bad. That won’t happen again. I felt bad for some people after I was gone.”

“I’m up at the end of next year, and nobody’s going past mine.”

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Carlyle, McNab extended through 2012.

Randy Carlyle’s seat just grew a bit colder Tuesday.

The head coach, along with Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations David McNab, both received one-year contract extensions that will keep them with the Ducks through 2012.

Carlyle’s job security was questioned after the Ducks stumbled out of the blocks this season, before general manager Bob Murray publicly backed the head coach. Murray put his money where his mouth is Tuesday with Anaheim climbing the Western Conference standings at 16-13-4.

The 54-year-old coach has the most wins and highest winning percentage in Ducks history,
compiling a 235-152-56 record in 443 career NHL games (.594 winning
percentage). Only Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, Nashville’s Barry Trotz and Detroit’s Mike Babcock have been with their current teams longer.

McNab has been with Anaheim since the organization came into existence in 1993, and has been an NHL scout in some capacity since 1978. He served as the Ducks’ assistant general manager for 14 seasons prior
to his appointment to his current title in Nov. 2008. McNab’s duties
include overseeing all aspects of player development, having an
expertise on the Collective Bargaining Agreement and its relationship to
the salary cap in the NHL, contract and arbitration negotiation, player
evaluation and scouting.

Bonino doing everything except scoring.

You don’t need to remind Nick Bonino about his stat line.

How closely does he track it?

“Pretty closely,” the 22-year-old center said Saturday. “It’s frustrating not having a point.”

For a man with no goals and no assists, it’s almost a surprise that Bonino has been a fixture on the so-called “kid line” in Anaheim. The kids on the wing have changed frequently, but the center position has been locked up since Bonino was recalled from the American Hockey League in early November. He’s only been scratched once in 20 games, averaging 9:42 in ice time per contest.

Only one player in the entire NHL – Kings defenseman Matt Greene – has played in more games than Bonino without picking up a goal or an assist. Among forwards, only new York Islanders tough guy Trevor Gillies has played as many games without a point.

The reason Randy Carlyle keeps penciling in Bonino is simple.
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Ducks 3, Calgary 2, SO.

The Ducks squandered a two-goal lead, didn’t score or allow a goal in overtime, then rolled the dice in the shootout. Sound familiar?

Friday’s 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames followed the same script as Anaheim’s last two outings, a win in Edmonton and a loss in Vancouver.

Lubomir Visnovsky and Dan Sexton scored in the first and second periods, respectively, to stake the Ducks to a 2-0 lead. After goals by Olli Jokinen and David Moss knotted the game at 2 in the third period, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry scored in the shootout to seal the win. Hiller preserved the victory with a glove save on Rene Bourque on the other end after Perry’s goal in the third shootout round.

The Ducks have gained points in their last three games, and in six of their last eight. But about squandering those two-goal leads …

“The problem is we start thinking too much about it,
instead of just playing,” Hiller said. “We’re thinking about what could happen. It’s a
mental game. We have to do better and we’re going to work on it.”

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