It isn’t about who’s missing for the Ducks, it’s about who’s showing up.
This season, because of several illnesses and injuries, many players have not always been able to take to the ice. So why have the Ducks been able to remain the NHL points leaders?
Whether it’s tone-setting words from captain Ryan Getzlaf or the example set by Ryan Kesler’s furious play and tireless energy, the centers’ leadership has been the impetus.
“Every situation that’s tough, Kesler and Getzlaf are on the ice,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “From them, you see you constantly have to go, to work, to follow the lead.”
Many wondered if the Ducks’ formula would stop working when Corey Perry — who missed five games earlier because of the mumps — was sidelined for up to four weeks after suffering a sprained left knee last week.
“Yeah, that’s the way it goes,” Getzlaf said upon learning his close friend and longtime teammate had sustained the injury. “It’s not easy to do, but we’ve got to find a way to play through these things, to keep moving.”
Without Perry, the Ducks extended a winning streak to seven games before losing Tuesday in Toronto.
Since the loss of Perry, Kesler has contributed five goals and three assists and Getzlaf nine points, including two goals.
“I was brought in here to help with the leadership … [it’s] the way you talk in the room, the way you play on the ice,” said Kesler, the former Selke Trophy winner (for best defensive forward) acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in the off-season.
There was an easing into that role for a couple of months, Kesler said, but as many teammates started falling by the wayside, he assured, “It’s normal now.”
Not counting the season-long absence of veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray (right wrist surgery), the Ducks have lost 176 man-games this season.
Four players contracted the mumps virus, key defensemen Ben Lovejoy and Francois Beauchemin each suffered a broken finger and goalie John Gibson was sidelined with a groin injury that has forced starter Frederik Andersen to play 19 consecutive games.
Getzlaf has doggedly insisted his teammates not tolerate excuses.
“When you get in these situations, there’s times guys look to you maybe a little bit more than normal,” he said. “It’s a matter of continuing on the same path, trying to play the same way.”
Boudreau admits the player losses have been massive, but notes, “I never hear any talk about it in the dressing room.”
Though the captain’s “C” might seem little more than decoration on some team sweaters, Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said Getzlaf’s leadership has had more impact than ever, especially in the absence of retired veterans Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu.
“You lose certain guys in the room, and Getzy’s taken that leadership to a new level, has learned things from losing last year,” Cogliano said. “He steps up and speaks when we really need it. He doesn’t waste his time with little things. Guys have been responding.”
Kesler, known as an ornery irritant to opponents, has been a good sport about frequent linemate changes and has 11 goals and 26 points while playing in all 32 Ducks games.
“He doesn’t let us mope,” Boudreau said.
Like Getzlaf, Kesler is also assigned to the power-play and penalty-kill units.
“Kes works so hard every day in the gym and on the ice,” said Matt Beleskey, the second-line forward who plays alongside Kesler. “You watch him, the way he is, you’ve got to follow that.”
Maybe it’s been all the mumps talk around the league, but when Beleskey considered the best way to describe the Getzlaf-Kesler example-setting, he said: “It’s contagious.”
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