At the morning skate in Denver a few weeks ago, Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau had lost a button on one of the collars of his button-down shirt and was trying to find a new one before game time. Later, his team would get shellacked 6-1 by the Avs, and rookie coach Patrick Roy would nearly send a glass partition down on Boudreau's head after the game.
An inauspicious start to a new season, to say the least.
Since then, though, all Boudreau and the Ducks have done is win seven straight, a streak they will put on the line in Toronto against the slumping Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
Trips to Toronto are always special for Boudreau, who played all but seven of his 141 NHL games with the Leafs. He’ll be looking to hand the Leafs their third straight loss after Toronto started the season on a 6-1-0 tear. The Leafs have looked anemic offensively, scoring three goals in those two losses and failing to generate 30 shots on goal in six straight games. As always, the buzz around the Leafs rarely recedes from a dull roar, and the first mini-slump of the season has much of the media pointing to Tuesday’s game as a significant test for head coach Randy Carlyle’s squad.
The ties that bind these two teams are strong, even though they hail from opposite conferences.
Boudreau took Carlyle’s spot as Ducks head coach after Carlyle was fired in late November 2011. Carlyle, who won a Cup with the Ducks in 2007, would go on to replace Ron Wilson behind the Toronto bench in March 2012. Defenseman Francois Beauchemin is back in Anaheim after a disappointing turn with the Maple Leafs and is an important member of Boudreau’s young blue line, while Joffrey Lupul, a former Duck, has emerged as a leader and offensive catalyst for the Leafs.
If Carlyle has had to get used to the constant attention on his squad, Boudreau has become accustomed to his Ducks flying under the NHL radar even though their current winning streak matches the longest in franchise history. This was also the case last season, when the Ducks finished with the second-best record in the Western Conference and third in the league behind Chicago and Pittsburgh. The trend continues this season, even though the Ducks have outscored opponents 28-13 during their seven-game streak and they have managed to keep the league’s top team, San Jose, within hailing distance in the ultracompetitive Pacific Division.
The streak has been achieved even though the Ducks’ special teams have been up-and-down. The power play has been shut out in six of eight games, although the Ducks did break through for two power-play goals in a come-from-behind victory over Dallas on Sunday night. The penalty kill ranks 22nd, although the Ducks have managed to kill off 16 of 17 short-handed situations in the past five games.
The Ducks will have to face the Leafs without winger Dustin Penner after a nasty hit courtesy of Dallas forward Ryan Garbutt Sunday night. Penner, who had worked his way back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch at the start of the season, had picked up two goals and two assists in six games.
Still, if there has been a Ducks calling card this season, it has been their ability to find scoring from up and down the lineup. Twelve different Ducks have tallied for a team that ranks third in goals per game.
Not that anyone’s noticed.