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The Anaheim Ducks have awoken from their prolonged Olympic break with big wins over a pair of contenders in the San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks.
Now, the bad news: Anaheim is probably five games and two weeks too late.
The team that beat the top two clubs in the Western Conference this week was nowhere to be found when the NHL season resumed March 1, as the Ducks slumbered to a 0-4-1 record after the Olympic break and, realistically, more than likely killing their postseason chances.
The team that was only two points out of a playoff spot at the break is now eight points out of the final spot in the West and must leapfrog four teams to get there. I figure the Ducks need at least 10 or 11 wins in their final 13 games to have any chance.
How did it get this dire? What happened to the team that entered the break on a 6-2-0 run?
"Well, that's a great question," Ducks GM Bob Murray told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "We came back from the break, and some people were missing for a while. We looked like we did at the start of the season; it was like we never played together before. No team chemistry. And so why? I have to figure that out."
When Murray says "missing," he doesn't mean injured or scratched, he means players dressed in equipment who are not very effective on the ice. There's a lot of blame to go around on that front, starting with the top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, the three Olympians coming back from Vancouver not equipped with their A-game.
"Scotty Niedermayer was able to come back from the Olympics and raise his level even higher," Murray. said. "Where the heck was everyone else? But it's not only the Olympians; several other veterans have also not picked it up."
I thought Perry and Ryan were much better in Wednesday night's 4-2 win over the Blackhawks, while Getzlaf sat out after banging up his ankle again.
Still, where was this hockey two weeks ago? So sure was Murray (and quite frankly, myself as well) that the Ducks had turned around their season before the break, the Ducks GM had an aggressive trade deadline and added top-4 blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky (who is signed for three more seasons) and veteran defenseman Aaron Ward (UFA July 1).
"As hockey ops go, we think we improved our team," Murray said.
But then nothing. Losses followed to Colorado, Phoenix, Montreal (shootout), Columbus and Nashville. See you later, boys.
"We just have too many dead, flat games," Murray said. "That game against Columbus? I mean, c'mon. I'm sitting around with 14 other GMs in Florida watching that game [a 5-2 loss] and that was just disgusting."
Two nights earlier, the Ducks were up 3-0 on Montreal before losing 4-3 in a shootout, as the Canadiens scored twice in the third period to tie it.
"There, we looked like we were OK," Murray said. "We had a great first period, we started to see things that we thought we'd see from this team, and then we just start giving the puck away. You would not have wanted to be around me after that Montreal game."
Unless there's a miracle run here, Murray has to sit down after the season and reconsider this roster, one that many thought had been good enough to contend this season. The additions of Saku Koivu and Joffrey Lupul before this season never produced secondary scoring as hoped. (Lupul has been injured for most of the season.) The blue-line corps isn't up to snuff, although Visnovsky was a great pickup. Ryan (RFA July 1) needs a new contract and big raise, while veterans Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, both UFAs, will once again consider retirement.
There are big decisions looming this summer.
"Yeah, I've got to search for why some of these things happened," Murray said. "I've got to evaluate the whole thing, from top to bottom. There's responsibility everywhere, from my department in hockey ops all the way down."
Having said all that, Murray would be more than happy to eat his words if the Ducks pulled it off over the next three-plus weeks and make the playoffs. It's a long shot, and it's all they've got left.