After a good start carried them to the top of the Pacific Division, the Ducks understandably slipped into cruise control in early February.
"It's a tough time of year whether you're at the bottom or the top. When you're at the top it's almost tougher," center Ryan Getzlaf said. "You get a little complacent and lose a game here or there and you don't think it's that big a deal, and all of a sudden it's two or three and you decide you've got to wake up."
They believe they're awake now. "I hope so," Getzlaf said Monday before they faced the Detroit Red Wings at Honda Center. "I thought we looked good the last couple days. I think our game's rounded a little bit better and the excitement around the room seems a little bit higher than it was."
The Ducks are following a familiar pattern with a third straight strong regular-season performance. The trick is avoiding a third straight early playoff exit.
"You take the last two years and how the playoffs went to Game 7s — Game 7s that we haven't exactly come out ready to play — and it's tough," winger Kyle Palmieri said of losses to Detroit and the Kings. "Ninety percent of this group was there and went through it. It's one of those things you never want to experience again."
Home games this week against Detroit, Ottawa and the Kings should provide a measure of where they stand. They'll also play Sunday at Dallas before Monday's NHL trade deadline.
A shaky defense has forced them to rethink the idea that center Ryan Kesler, acquired last summer, was the final piece for a Stanley Cup run. Defenseman Eric Brewer, acquired from Tampa Bay on Nov. 28, has looked painfully slow — and he's not alone in that. General Manager Bob Murray needs a second-pair defenseman and might have to trade a roster player for one. He isn't looking for a rental player and has rejected requests for top prospect Shea Theodore. The Ducks have salary cap space but don't spend to the limit.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said he has been most bothered by the high number of goals against, a lack of consistency, and a tendency to unravel after allowing a goal. "But I think they're very correctable and there's a lot of time to correct them," he said.
Only if they're fully awake.
Gold medal anniversary
Tuesday is the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Olympic hockey team's gold medal-clinching victory over Finland at Lake Placid, a feat no U.S. men's team has matched. Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 team, would welcome company in the U.S. Olympic history books.
"We're not the '72 Dolphins. We want to see gold medals," he said.
The college kids-vs.-Goliath theme that made the 1980 triumph over the Soviets and Finns so stunning was removed from the equation when NHL players began representing their homelands at the 1998 Nagano Games. However, the NHL, the NHL Players' Assn. and the International Olympic Committee haven't yet reached agreement on sending NHL players to the 2018 Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Eruzione favors reverting to sending college kids. "I would like to see it, but I still root for the pros as well. Every time our country competes at the international level, whether it's the world championships, the world juniors or the Olympic Games, I hope they win," he said. "We go into a tournament now as one of the favorites, and that's great to see. The sport has grown so much. . . .
"Whether we send college kids or pro players, I still want to see our teams be competitive and win because it's a great message to the world about how far we've come in hockey."
Outdoors and outstanding
Levi's Stadium lacked the charm of Dodger Stadium, where the Kings and Ducks played outdoors last year, but what the NHL lost in ambience last Saturday it gained in revenue: The crowd of 70,205 at the Kings' 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks was the third-largest for an NHL outdoor game.
Commissioner Gary Bettman, who initially opposed staging outdoor games in California, is willing to return here. But he hedged when asked if it will happen soon.
"The 'soon' part I don't know the answer to because the outdoor games remain in such demand," he said. "Do I envision us coming back at some point for more outdoor games? The answer is absolutely. It's been great and we couldn't ask for a better time, whether it was last year at Dodger Stadium or here at Levi's.
"The combination of seeing this many NHL/hockey fans in California shows you exactly what the game has accomplished, what these three franchises have accomplished in a relatively brief period of time, if you compare their history to, say, the Original Six."
A game at the Rose Bowl would be spectacular, but waiting a few years is fine. Too many outdoor games would spoil the novelty.
The teetering Bruins lost center David Krejci for four to six weeks because of a torn knee ligament. . . . Jaromir Jagr, unhappy with reduced ice time since General Manager Lou Lamoriello became New Jersey's interim coach, reportedly is open to being traded. . . . Left wing Curtis Glencross, unable to negotiate a contract with Calgary, gave the Flames a list of acceptable trade destinations. It's believed his list includes the Kings and Ducks but he's not among the Kings' targets. Any move they make would likely be on defense. . . . Defenseman Jeff Petry, prized as a right-handed shooter, missed Edmonton's last two games because of a rib injury but that won't hurt his trade value as a rental player.