With two-thirds of the Ducks' top line sidelined by a contract squabble (Paul Kariya) and an injury (Steve Rucchin), Sean Pronger has moved smartly into the No. 1 center's spot.
In his debut on the line in last Saturday's 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, Pronger contributed an assist and steady play.
He knew the key was doing more than simply staying out of the way of wingers Tomas Sandstrom and Teemu Selanne. He had to get them the puck, win key faceoffs and do the dirty work in the front of the net and along the boards.
"It's been fun," said Pronger, who replaced Rucchin [groin strain] in Friday's game against the Ottawa Senators. "It's a privilege to play with those guys. They know I'm a little nervous and they don't yell at me if I don't get them the puck right away."
Pronger, who usually centers the second line, says he's grown to appreciate Rucchin's skill during his short tenure with Sandstrom and Selanne.
"He's a good player," Pronger said. "I don't think Rucchin gets the respect he deserves. He's a workhorse. He's a great player. I shouldn't say he's a good player. He's a great player."
Coach Pierre Page excused the Ducks from the morning skate, saying he's not a big fan of the traditional practices started by legendary Montreal Coach Toe Blake years ago to get his players home at a reasonable hour.
"Usually with the first home game of the season, the players are so excited that they play the game in the morning," Page said. "We told them, 'If you get fidgety, go ride the bike for five minutes.' We wanted to do something that grabbed the players' attention and broke the routine."
Leave it to the Duck media relations staff to unearth this stat: the Ducks are 1-1 in arenas with diving boards. Tokyo's Yoyogi Arena was the site of the swimming and diving events at the 1964 Olympics and the first NHL games outside North America last week. . . . The start of the Ducks' Oct. 26 game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden has been changed from 10:30 a.m. PDT to 4 p.m. Channel 9 has dropped its telecast of the game and added a March 22 game at Ottawa.