These are strange days and nights for Mighty Duck defenseman Tom Kurvers.
Benched three consecutive games for his error-filled play, Kurvers returned to The Pond ice Sunday and turned in a sound performance. He scored the Ducks' first goal--his fourth this season--made a couple of noteworthy defensive plays and earned the praise of Coach Ron Wilson, a harsh critic lately.
Then again, Kurvers was on the ice for four of Calgary's five goals and the Ducks lost their third in a row.
He has been an NHL defenseman for 12 seasons, but getting a handle on his role with these dizzy Ducks has been a chore. He knew it might be different here, joining a team trying to reinvent itself with a younger, flashier cast. In the past, he was called upon for scoring punch on the power play and little else. The Ducks desperately need a more well-rounded game from Kurvers.
There are other differences, too. His former team, the New York Islanders, considered a moral victory something to scoff at. They knew it for what it was--a loss in the standings. So when somebody asked Kurvers whether he felt good about his game after a 5-3 loss to Calgary, he winced.
"I guess you have to grab for something positive when you're in a little streak like we're in right now," he said.
Moments earlier, Wilson could find no fault with Kurvers' play, saying "I thought he played with desperation."
Kurvers' first goal since scoring the game-winner against the Kings Feb. 5 at the Forum wasn't enough to lift his postgame spirits. Since then, the Ducks are 1-6-1 and blame for their anemic power play has been directed at Kurvers.
The Ducks hoped Kurvers could pump life into the league's weakest power play when they traded Troy Loney for him in the off-season. Five goals scored and six shorthanded goals given up in 62 power plays going into Sunday wasn't what they had in mind, though.
Despite past failures, there was Kurvers celebrating the Ducks' first goal Sunday. He crept into the slot to swat a rebound past Calgary goaltender Trevor Kidd, scoring his first power-play goal of the season and the Ducks' first with a man advantage since Feb. 18 against San Jose.
Calgary would rally, erasing a two-goal Duck lead and leaving Kurvers searching for answers. He spoke of failed opportunities, misfired scoring chances being a Duck forte this season.
"For so many years I was always on a team with bona fide (star) players," said Kurvers, who had five goals and 21 assists on the Islanders' power play last season. "It's a different role for me. But I'd rather play more. With the Islanders, I was a fifth or sixth defenseman. I'd play more when we were behind. I didn't kill many penalties. Here, it's an expanded role, an expanded opportunity.
"I want to make it work."
Like everything else in the Ducks' disordered world this year, Kurvers seems more than a little off-kilter. Knowing the Ducks are counting on him to provide strong offense and solid defense only makes failure tougher to accept. Sunday, he learned he can play extremely well and still not prevent a Duck loss.
"I've seen teams struggle to score goals, but I haven't seen as prolonged a struggle as this," he said. "It's tough on everyone when you're playing with a small margin of error."