All week long, the Ducks have walked through hotels playing holiday music, visiting Canada’s biggest cities festively lighted up for the season.
They shut off the sentiment through four games, stayed locked in on the demands of a rugged trip and won three times, from Edmonton to Winnipeg to Montreal.
Then Friday’s road finale came, home beckoning, fatigue at its peak from a gritty performance the night before. And the outcome showed it.
Ottawa Senators 6, Ducks 2.
“Not a great effort, all the way around,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said after the loss. “I’m not going to say we were content and [were thinking], ‘Let’s just get home.’
“I know we’ve been on the road 13 of the last 15 days — that doesn’t hold anything. That bar’s pretty high on our team and when you don’t get what you reach for, you get pretty upset.”
Boudreau decided on the heels of an emotion-packed victory in Montreal to halt the run of 20 consecutive games by goalie Frederik Andersen and to start veteran Ilya Bryzgalov in net.
Making his first start as a Duck since being waived by the team after a Nov. 7, 2007, loss, Bryzgalov, 34, made his first NHL start since last season’s playoffs with the Minnesota Wild.
He gave up a power-play goal just 2 minutes 3 seconds into the game; the Senators (14-12-6) pinning all six on him as the Ducks allowed 31 shots from the Atlantic Division’s seventh-place team.
“I don’t know what to say. This is not exactly how you want to return. Bad night,” Bryzgalov said. “I feel OK, but … I make lots of mistakes, and need to eliminate those mistakes. Watch the game, see what I did wrong, [move] forward.”
It wasn’t all on Bryzgalov.
By Ducks’ standards, the effort was lifeless, the precision sorely absent from a team that leads the NHL with its 22-8-5 record.
On a power play, for instance, Ducks center Ryan Kesler tried to pass off the boards, only to see the puck bounce straight back toward him, the Senators clearing it.
Ottawa center Kyle Turris then weaved through Ducks forward Rene Bourque and two others and blasted a short-handed goal past Bryzgalov.
Just 41 seconds after that, Ducks defenseman Colby Robak turned it over to Senators forward Mike Hoffman, who stole the puck and scored all in one motion for a 4-0 lead.
“We’ve been through many things, a lot of teams have road trips,” Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said. “We’ve got to play through them — all the way through. Tonight, we didn’t show up. I’m embarrassed.
“We were missing passes, not crisp, not forechecking. The list goes on.”
Getzlaf responded with the game’s next two goals, but Hoffman scored again with 5:40 left in the third and it was home for the holidays.
The Ducks’ resolve was weakened when defenseman Hampus Lindholm missed his first game of the season after suffering a lower-body injury Thursday. He participated in pregame warmups and classified himself as day to day.
Healthy Ducks forward Devante Smith-Pelly was scratched to reinsert former Senator Dany Heatley for the first time since the two-time 50-goal scorer underwent groin surgery last month.
Heatley played alongside Getzlaf on the first line, but mustered only one shot in 13:54, finding himself replaced on the line by Patrick Maroon midway through the second period.
“It’s more rust now, timing, getting back up to game speed,” Heatley said. “The more chances I can skate and play, the quicker it’s going to come.”