The only consistent elements in the Ducks’ season are injuries and inconsistency.
Their 5-1-1 start faded to a seven-game winless streak, followed by a 3-3-2 stretch. They made a U-turn and pulled off 11 wins in 13 games, which lifted them into playoff position. But they took a four-gamelosing streak into their game against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night at Honda Center, the start of a six-game homestand that will carry them past the halfway point of the regular season.
They’re still missing many players, notably forwards Rickard Rakell (sprained ankle) and Corey Perry (knee surgery), defenseman Cam Fowler (facial surgery) and backup goaltender Ryan Miller (knee sprain). Fowler, who suffered multiple facial fractures when he was struck by a deflected puck on Nov. 12, has practiced with the team but hasn’t set a target date for his return. John Gibson, who left Thursday’s game at San Jose because of upper-body injury, returned on Saturday.
The injuries have tested the Ducks’ depth, with mixed results. But they’ve won without some of those key players, so why have they been so streaky?
“That’s a good question,” defenseman Hampus Lindholm said. “I think we like streaks but we don’t like the losing ones. If we could have more of the winning ones and less of the losing ones that would be something we’d be happy with. We just have to get back playing the right way and do what it takes to get a win in this league.”
The Ducks were held to four goals in losing to the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and San Jose Sharks. Their lack of scoring and their woes on the power play — they were one for 16 in those losses and ranked 25th in the NHL before Saturday’s games — are familiar themes.
Coach Randy Carlyle believes those failings are behind their inconsistency.
“I guess you could probably pinpoint lack of offense and not clean enoughfrom a standpoint of breaking the puck out, defensive zone coverage, those things that led to some defensive breakdowns,” he said. “And [they hadn’t] played extremely poor but not played to a high enough level to give ourselves a chance for success. Inside of all of that usually your special teams, the battle within the game, we’ve been on the wrong side of that too manytimes in this last stretch here.”
There was good news for the Ducks on the injury front, with Fowler’s increased activity. After taking the puck in the face he had to wait several days before doctors could perform surgery; he said the procedure took three hours and the surgeon had to go in through his mouth and through his eye.
“The days leading up to surgery things kind of started to set in, the severity of what happened,” he said Saturday morning. “Thank God I had a lot of great people looking after me….At the end of the day,things could have been worse. It could have affected my eye. It could have affected my vision, long-term effects. In that way I feel very lucky and I’ll make a full recovery but a lot of that is thanks to the people who have taken such great care of me.”
The risk of infection meant he had to avoid physical exertion for a while. “That part was harder than I expected, to not do anything for three weeks. So I was a little, not scared, but I was wondering how I was going to feel when I came back,” he said. “Luckily I’ve worked real hard here. I’ve been skating for a couple weeks by myself and the last couple days with the team and I feel really good, and hopefully we’ll just keep this thing moving forward and continue to progress every day.”
His face began to regain its normal contours about two weeks ago but he has souvenirs beneath theskin.
“Three or four plates in my face and 10 screws, something like that,” he said. “That’s not life-altering I guess but it still is pretty major surgery.” Fortunately, the material used in the plates and screws won’t set off metal detectors at airports. “That was actually one of the first things I asked. That part’s good,” he said, smiling.
The original timetable for his return was eight weeks, which would be mid-January, and he’s still on target. But the Ducks can’t sit back and wait for him to come back and rescue them.
“We’re going to be at home here. We’re going to get some quality practice time,” Carlyle said. “We’re going to have a couple of three-day breaks in between games, which has been something that’s been foreign to us for the first half of the season….All of those things culminate to giving ourselves the best chance and for us as a team to get our A game underneath us and get going. We developed a blue collar attitude on the road and we have to get back to that blue-collar hockey.”