The Mighty Ducks traveled to the bleakest outpost in the NHL looking for . . . what?
A spark? A bit of luck? A return to the physical, high-tempo style of play that made them winners in four of six games before embarking on this five-game trip?
What the Ducks found Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum was some, but not enough of all of the above, and they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1.
A crowd of only 6,871 kept sharp watch on the bouncing puck, seeing it ricochet off skates and past befuddled goaltenders. The fans also watched the Hurricanes win their third in a row and the Ducks lose their third in as many games.
Ron Francis, Nolan Pratt and Jeff O’Neill scored for the Hurricanes. Travis Green, playing in his first game after missing three in a row because of a sprained left knee, had the Ducks’ goal.
Paul Kariya’s point streak ended at 11 consecutive games, tops in the NHL this season.
“Obviously, it was a better hockey game than the other night,” Coach Craig Hartsburg said, referring to a 3-1 loss Friday to the expansion Nashville Predators. “It was a better effort, but we didn’t get it done.”
The Ducks trailed, 1-0, after the first period, rallied to tie by the end of the second, then lost on Pratt’s point shot that beat a screened Guy Hebert at 8:17 of the final period.
O’Neill added an empty-net goal with 23 seconds left.
Hartsburg ripped the Ducks for their lackluster showing Friday against Nashville. Center Steve Rucchin took his best shots Sunday, touching on many of the same themes Hartsburg covered.
“It’s up to everybody to pick up their play,” Rucchin said. “We’re not getting enough out of everyone with the exception of our goaltenders. Each guy is not doing his job. It’s time to look at ourselves in the mirror.”
Rucchin was just getting warmed up.
“We’ve got to play with a little more intensity,” he said. “We’ve got to start making some better plays. Frustrating is not the word. You can’t be frustrated if you’re not doing the job.
“I’m disappointed in myself. No one can fix it for us.”
The Ducks played sound hockey while Teemu Selanne was sidelined because of a strained right thigh, winning four of six games. He rejoined the lineup for the start of the trip Wednesday at Detroit and things looked rosy.
But since losing to the Red Wings, 5-2, the Ducks seem shellshocked. They haven’t played aggressively in any facet of the game.
“For some reason, we’ve gotten away from it,” Rucchin said of Hartsburg’s game plan. “We’re not executing the system. When you’re standing around, you’re going to be ineffective. Tonight, we did a better job. [But] the last few games, we’ve been standing and watching.”
And losing, too. The Ducks’ three-game losing streak is their longest since opening the season with three defeats.
The Ducks gave up a power-play goal 2:06 into the game Sunday, but could not be faulted for how the puck ended up behind Hebert. Francis scored his fifth goal of the season, but he was simply trying to pass the puck from the right wing to O’Neill at the left goal post.
The puck never got there, banking into the net off the skate of Duck defenseman Jamie Pushor, who was moving in front of the crease to help cover O’Neill.
Green also benefited from a bounce off a skate in front to beat Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe. But the Ducks, despite relentless third-period pressure, got nothing else past Irbe. Kariya had a short breakaway after swiping the puck from defenseman Steve Chiasson, but Irbe stopped his shot at 12:20 of the final period. Rucchin barged toward the net, but couldn’t stuff the puck past Irbe at 12:59.
“We had some good chances,” said Rucchin, scoreless for the third consecutive game. “We had a little more offense than we’ve had of late. [Irbe] made some good saves and they capitalized on their [scoring] chances. We’ve lost three in a row now and we obviously haven’t played well.”