By the time Corey Perry steps on the ice in Pittsburgh for the Ducks’ season opener Thursday, a new alternate-captain’s “A” will be affixed to his sweater.
From the perspective of Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau, that letter not only signifies Perry’s expanded leadership on a team that had the best record in the Western Conference last season and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings in Game 7 of the conference semifinals, but also his grade on Perry’s 43-goal, 39-assist performance in 2013-14.
“If he does what he did last year, I’m happy,” Boudreau said. “I’m not going to say, ‘Get 60 [goals].’ He was really disciplined. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Entering his 10th season, Perry, 29, is chasing something more than an “A.”
He wants the plus too — meaning an even better season and, of course, a Stanley Cup.
“I’m a guy who doesn’t like to lose,” Perry said. “I play with my heart on my sleeve and the emotions on the outside. It’s not fun when you’re losing. Everyone’s been through it now. They don’t want to go through it again. That’s where I get my fire from.”
The sourness in the pit of the Ducks’ bellies is tied to the Kings’ loss; specifically, for Perry, to his failed penalty shot in Game 7 that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick poked away with the Ducks trailing 2-0 in the first period.
Seconds later, it was 3-0 and “everything that was working, looking like it was shaping up to be something … came to a screeching halt,” Perry said.
“It was awful. I just really didn’t want to take my equipment off. You just don’t look at Game 7. You look at Game 1, when they scored with eight seconds left to tie it. … You start thinking about how close we really were.
“My penalty shot … that’s a momentum thing, and that’s what I’m talking about I have to be better at — shifting the momentum, putting the team in position to win.”
Perry hopes he set the tone for this season in Saturday’s preseason finale, blasting an overtime winner over the left shoulder of San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi.
The Ducks’ journey starts with a four-game trip to Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo and Philadelphia, a chance for the new assemblage to bond.
The marquee off-season acquisition was center Ryan Kesler, the 2011 Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) winner from Vancouver. He will join Perry and first-line center Ryan Getzlaf on the power play and anchor a shut-down second line with veteran Andrew Cogliano and second-year forward Jakob Silfverberg.
"[Kesler] wants to score, and so do I — creating defense by playing good offense,” Cogliano said. “With ‘Kes,’ you can tell he’s thinking offense right away. It’s an encouraging sign.”
The Ducks languished as the NHL’s 20th-best team in faceoffs last season, but with Kesler — who won 17 of 20 in the San Jose preseason game — and another newcomer, veteran center Nate Thompson, formerly of Tampa Bay, that standing should improve.
Even though the Ducks finished in the top 10 during the season in even-strength goals allowed, their breakdowns against the Kings triggered the decision to also spend $13 million over four years for defenseman Clayton Stoner, who helped Minnesota upset Colorado in the playoffs.
“The goal was to get bigger, stronger, tougher, and we absolutely did,” Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said.
The final line of defense will be maintained by a youngster on any given night, either second-year goalie Frederik Andersen, who posted a 20-5 regular-season record last season, or rookie John Gibson, who produced shutouts in both his regular-season and playoff debuts.
Pittsburgh is Gibson’s hometown, but Denmark’s Andersen won two preseason games. Boudreau is expected to withhold his opening-night starter until Thursday’s morning skate.
“You hate to see friends go, but … you look around this room, and these new faces will help this hockey club,” Perry said. “We’ll build on what we did last year, and the new guys will fit in well. I’m not a guy to go out and say we’re going to win it. We’ve got to do all the right things. It’s steppingstones … look at it in segments, and keep getting better each segment.”