Six rookies in the lineup. Continued lackluster play by healthy veterans. Consecutive losses to last-place teams.
Is this any way to secure a playoff berth?
No, as the Mighty Ducks proved in a dreary, 4-2, loss to Toronto Wednesday in front of 15,726 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
Instead of beating up on weaker teams, the Ducks have foundered in the first two games of their four-game tour of North America. They also managed to pump some life into two teams attempting to salvage a bit of pride by rejoining the playoff race.
Tuesday, the Ducks let a two-goal lead slip away en route to a 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders, last in the Atlantic Division.
Wednesday, they tried a new approach: Trying to scramble back from a two-goal deficit against the Maple Leafs, last in the Central Division.
Saturday, they play Edmonton, the only opponent on the trip with a .500 record and in a playoff position.
At the moment, it looks like the biggest mismatch.
The trip ends Sunday at Calgary, a team the Ducks routed, 7-0, on Dec. 20 at the Pond.
“Every team goes through a stretch like this once a year,” veteran enforcer Ken Baumgartner said. “It just tests the depth of an organization.”
The Ducks have raided the talent pool at their minor-league affiliate at Baltimore in an effort to shore up their lineup. Recent injuries have sidelined forwards Ted Drury, Roman Oksiuta and Kevin Todd and defenseman David Karpa.
Instead of those veterans, Coach Ron Wilson was forced to rely on a makeshift lineup anchored, as always, by all-star wingers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.
But even Kariya and Selanne couldn’t bail out the Ducks on this night. Each scored a goal, but the Ducks still lost. They had been 6-0 this season and 9-0 since Selanne was acquired from Winnipeg last Feb. 7 when each had a goal.
Toronto countered with Mats Sundin’s two goals and one assist and Doug Gilmour’s three assists to win for only the third time in the past 12 games.
“At times we looked very tired and at other times we looked very inexperienced out there,” Wilson said.
Rookies Darren Van Impe, Peter LeBoutillier, Sean Pronger, Craig Reichert, Dan Trebil and Nikolai Tsulygin logged significant ice time because Wilson had run out of options.
“I think the young guys did a pretty good job,” said Selanne, who scored his team-leading 30th goal. “It’s not because of them that we lost this game. I think we have to find some positive things from this game. I think every player gave everything he had.”
The Ducks trailed, 1-0, 2:44 into the game, then rallied to tie on Kariya’s 12th goal in the past 12 games at the 1:36 mark of the second period.
Van Impe set up the goal with a pass from the right wing to a hard-charging Kariya, who simply redirected the puck past goaltender Felix Potvin.
Toronto built a 3-1 lead on goals by Mathieu Schneider and Sundin. But Selanne scored with 39 seconds left in the second period to cut the lead to 3-2.
Nothing clicked for the Ducks in the third period and Sundin sealed the victory with his 31st goal of the season.
“We’ve had a rash of injuries to some key role players,” Wilson said after the Ducks’ third consecutive loss. “We’ve got to do a better job defensively and other guys [read: not just Kariya and Selanne] chip in with goals and we’ll win games, 2-1.
“It’s frustrating to have to think that way, but that’s where we are right now.”
Defenseman David Karpa, who broke a bone in his right hand in Tuesday’s game, was placed on the injured reserve list. He is expected to be sidelined up to three weeks. Rookie defenseman Dan Trebil was recalled from Baltimore of the American Hockey League and made his NHL debut. . . . Guy Hebert, whose streak of 19 consecutive games in goal ended Tuesday, was back in the net Wednesday. . . . Winger Garry Valk, whose errant pass set up the game-winning goal in Tuesday’s loss to the New York Islanders, was benched by Coach Ron Wilson. . . . Enforcer Ken Baumgartner’s next point will be his ninth this season, a career high. He also had eight points in 1993-94 as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.