Whenever and however it began, Mighty Duck goaltender Guy Hebert is in the throes of a crisis.
One night after an ugly three-goal first period against San Jose earned Hebert a seat on the bench for the rest of the game, Duck Coach Ron Wilson sent him out again Wednesday against Detroit.
Hebert is foundering, and Wilson is newly bent on getting him back on track, starting him the night after a disastrous performance and sticking with him through another disastrous start for the rest of the game. Hebert finally righted himself in the third, when he faced 15 shots and didn't give up a goal.
"To pull Guy wouldn't do anything good for his confidence and it would fill our team with an easy excuse," said Wilson, who called a meeting afterward to tell players to "quit feeling sorry for themselves" and worry about the team. "Guy will eventually battle his way through this. He's got to get his confidence back."
Detroit won for the 17th time in its last 19 games, getting two goals each from Steve Yzerman and Vyacheslav Kozlov with Sergei Fedorov out because of a sore wrist.
It wasn't until 9:02 of the third period that the Ducks ended Mike Vernon's shutout bid with a power-play goal by Peter Douris.
It was such a bad night for Hebert that even Detroit Coach Scotty Bowman seemed sympathetic.
"Hebert had six. But he made some great saves too," Bowman said.
It was hard to say which position Hebert ended up in was more helpless. On his back deep in the net with his mask caught in the twine as Keith Primeau scored over him? Or sprawled on the ice at the left post after losing his footing, watching Kozlov cut behind the net and scored on a wraparound from the other post.
Primeau's goal was hotly disputed, coming after Detroit's Greg Johnson barreled into Hebert with Duck defenseman Dave Karpa at Johnson's back. But referee Don Koharski never blew his whistle to stop play and Primeau knocked the puck in over Hebert's prone body.
"The attacking player is going to the net and being checked by a Mighty Duck. It was the momentum of the Anaheim player that drove him into the net," Koharski told a pool reporter after the game. "As for why Hebert was down, his mask was caught in the net. We were laughing about it later. There was no injury."
Wilson wanted a whistle to check for an injury, but didn't get it.
It's hard to say precisely when Hebert lost his game, and how much of it has to do with his chronically sore right ankle. There's also a chicken-or-the-egg question about whether his confidence crisis was deepened by his own play or by Wilson's recent benching of him, starting Mikhail Shtalenkov for eight of 10 games.
"He's had nagging injuries that developed into bad habits, and then it became a confidence problem," Wilson said.
The confidence problem apparently has spread to other Duck players.
"They don't have confidence in him," Wilson said. "With your goaltender, there's a wave effect through the whole team. When they [think] the goalie is infallible, they do things up ice aggressively and take chances and they're successful because of their confidence in the goalie behind them. But a bad goal has an effect for the next four, five minutes. It's, 'Oh, no, here we go again.' "
This spiral is something new for Hebert.
"Every goaltender goes through it," Wilson said. "Patrick Roy has been through it this year already and now in Colorado too. Eddie Belfour's already struggled too. Goaltender is the hardest position in the game to play. It's like pitching. A little thing can be off, like a pitcher's release point, and it causes big problems.
"But when a team's in a slump with a lot of people injured, what it takes is great goaltending to win hockey games. That's how you get through tough times. You rarely score five or six goals to break a losing streak."
Left wing Garry Valk required more than a dozen stitches to his left ear after taking a blatant elbow from Darren McCarty, who received only a roughing minor. Duck Coach Ron Wilson wanted a major, and had to play the last two periods with only 10 forwards because he scratched Joe Sacco and started seven defensemen, adding Milos Holan to the lineup. . . . Stu Grimson, the former Duck enforcer and fan favorite, made his first return since being traded April 4, though he played more the peacemaker than the pugilist.