Ducks climbing out of early-season hole
There's another hockey team not named the Los Angeles Kings winning a few games in Southern California these days.
Exactly how they got here after the way their season started, well, that's a story in itself.
They were ice cold less than two weeks ago, 4-7-1 on Nov. 1 to be exact, when Bob Murray called out his players.
It was a good ol' fashion whipping through the media. And strangely enough, it worked.
The Ducks have won five straight games since their fiery GM spoke out, salvaging what appeared to be a second straight season headed to oblivion.
"Things have been going a little bit better," star center Ryan Getzlaf told ESPN.com on Thursday.
Players will often tell you they don't read what's in the media. That's a lie, of course. And in this case, the Ducks players were fully aware what their GM said in the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times. In particular, he said the head coach wasn't going anywhere and it was the players that needed to fix this thing. Or else.
"We were definitely lagging in some areas of our game and not necessarily playing the way we needed to play," Getzlaf said. "For some guys, maybe that was a wake-up call. But hopefully guys weren't waiting around for our coach to get fired because that means you're not doing very well.
"I think we've done a great job turning it around so far and responding to those comments."
In a league in which parity has never been more real, digging a deep hole in the standings is a point of no return. It's nearly impossible to make up huge ground on a number of teams. Too many three-point games.
That's why the current 9-7-1 record through 17 games feels a lot better than the 6-8-3 record the Ducks had through the same number of games a year ago. That was a hole they never climbed out of.
When you consider the Ducks started this season 0-3-0, going 9-4-1 ever since is especially impressive.
"That was definitely a tough way to start the season when you dig that kind of hole," Getzlaf said. "Our guys have done a great job responding and getting out of it early so we're not trying to do that later."
The five-game win streak, a piece of art it is not. But that's OK. In a league in which teams have never been separated by so little, winning games like Tuesday night in San Jose when you're outshot 41-20 and Wednesday night at home against the Islanders when you're dog tired and muster only 14 shots on goal -- that's huge. Those are the points in the standings that make a difference at the end of the season.
"A lot of the fact that we're getting outshot in games is mostly due to the fact we're down in power plays," Getzlaf said. "When you're on the penalty kill quite a bit during the game, you're going to give up more shots."
And the Ducks have given up plenty of shots this season, the 29th worst in the league. Like Getzlaf said, it's also because they're the third-most penalized team in the league.
"I mean, that's always our focus is to try and stay out of that box as much as we can," Getzlaf said. "It's tough when you're playing on the edge and playing a pretty aggressive hockey style. Things have been getting better, we're still down on power plays but we're trying not to get frustrated."
Getzlaf has helped lead the way offensively, the Ducks captain sitting among the league leaders in scoring with 18 points (6-12). Tied with him in points, perhaps surprisingly, is an old goat named Teemu Selanne (seven goals, 11 assists).
"He's playing for sure," Getzlaf said of the 40-year-old Finnish Flash. "He's excited and he's ready go to. He's healthy and having fun again and that's a good thing for our locker room."
Veteran defenseman Toni Lydman has been terrific as well. He was signed away from Buffalo as a UFA last summer and after missing the start of camp and the start of the season with neurological issues, he's fully healthy and making an impact on the top defense pairing with Lubomir Visnovsky.
"Toni's been great," Getzlaf said. "Once we got him back in the lineup and going, he's a good, strong physical player who moves the puck around efficiently. It's really helped us on our back end and had a calming effect."
The surprising Dallas Stars come to town Friday night. Another tough Pacific Division test. The Central Division, I would argue, is tops in the NHL right now but not too far behind is the Pacific, where the first-place Kings, the perennial powerhouse Sharks and the gritty Coyotes round out the division.
It's a grind in the Pacific.
"It is," Getzlaf said. "And a lot of the teams in our division are built the same way. None of those games are ever going to be easy throughout this season."