ANAHEIM--With the return of All-Star goalkeeper Jonas Hiller still uncertain, a see-through defense that has allowed 21 goals in the last three games and now a gimpy Saku Koivu up front, the Ducks are carrying negative momentum heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Kings at Honda Center.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle tried to nudge the team in the right direction the last two days, holding a two-hour practice Monday and a 90-minute back-to-basics session Tuesday.
"With what’s transpired with our group in the last three games, there’s lots of areas in which we can improve," Carlyle said. "The first one is our work ethic."
The Ducks can’t afford to hit the pause button now. They begin Tuesday in 10th-place in the Western Conference, but with the same point total as seventh-place Minnesota. The ninth-place Kings are also one of five teams sitting on 68 points.
The Ducks have one thing going for them, however. They play the next seven games at home, where they are 17-9-1 this season.
"This late in the season you don’t get too many home stretches like this," said the team’s leading scorer, Corey Perry. "The points are going to be critical."
It’s still uncertain when Hiller will return. He missed the first four games following his All-Star appearance with lightheadedness, returned Feb. 13 to shut out Edmonton on 12 shots, then complained of similar dizzy spells following practice two days later and was placed on injured reserve. That’s when the defense went south.
The Washington Capitals had combined for three goals in the previous three games when they arrived in Anaheim on Wednesday and outscored the Ducks, 7-6. Two days later, they played in Minnesota and lost, 5-1, the only victory in the last four games for the Wild, who scored one goal in each of the losses.
Those were defensive gems compared to the game Saturday in St. Louis, when the Ducks lost, 9-3. How porous was the defense? The unit allowed two goals in seven seconds during the opening period.
Hiller’s back-up, Curtis McElhinney, went 3-1 during Hiller’s initial bout with dizziness but is now the obvious scapegoat for the defensive collapses. Perry was quick to defend his play, however.
"We just haven’t played well in front of him," he said.
Carlyle said Hiller has been working out at Anaheim’s practice facility but has not been cleared to return to the ice. All signs indicate Hiller won’t be out for an extended period of time, Carlyle said.
"The great sign is the [medical staff] has encouraged him to work out and stay active," Carlyle said.
Koivu, the team’s second-line center who is fifth on the team with 13 goals, tweaked his groin at the end of Monday’s practice and opted to sit out Tuesday. Carlyle said Koivu’s situation will be re-evaluated following Wednesday’s morning skate and a decision would be make on his availability against the Kings.
"We don’t want something like this to turn into an extended period of time, so we’d rather be on the cautious side," Carlyle said.