The mood in the locker room darkens with each loss. The puzzled faces abound; the melancholy atmosphere.
Hampus Lindholm acknowledged that right now, hockey isn’t as fun as it’s meant to be. How could it be?
The Ducks have dropped a franchise-record nine consecutive games. Really, there’s no end in sight.
Even a date with the last-place Ottawa Senators wasn’t enough to return the Ducks to the win column.
Even the return of their top goal scorer from last season, Rickard Rakell, wasn’t enough to propel them to victory.
The Senators themselves were riding an eight-game losing streak. That skid ended when center Colin White converted on a two-on-one rush 1:34 into overtime.
The Ducks lost Wednesday, a 2-1 setback in front of 17,174 at Honda Center. The game featured two struggling offenses.
With Rakell and Cam Fowler back, the Ducks are near full strength. The Senators were missing their best player from each unit. Top-line center Matt Duchene (42 points in 37 games this season) was with his wife, who was expected to give birth at any moment.
Starting goaltender Craig Anderson was sidelined by a concussion, replaced by journeyman Anders Nilsson. No. 1 defenseman Thomas Chabot (38 points in 38 games) missed the game with an upper-body injury.
Yet the Senators found a way to win in the most damning indictment of the Ducks’ struggles during this nine-game trudge. Perhaps most alarming of all, the Ducks are in the midst of a six-game homestand. They play host to the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday before beginning a five-game trip.
Coincidentally, it was the Penguins whom the Ducks beat on Dec. 17, the last time they enjoyed a win. A feeling that’s long escaped them. Twenty-four days and counting.
“At the end of the day, hockey is about having fun, so we just need to get back to that, “ said Lindholm, who is often cheery but was solemn as he spoke at his locker.
“Try to go out and play with some joy. That’s usually when you play your best hockey. I think if you ask any player in the league, the best games you’ve had, they just fly by, you don’t even think about it. You just have a smile on your face.”
The smiles turned to frowns, although it appeared for a moment Wednesday the Ducks would finally turn them upside down. Jakob Silfverberg finished a one-timer off a drop pass from Brandon Montour almost nine minutes into the opening period.
The Ducks stayed out of the penalty box the entire game and led until the midway point of the third period. John Gibson was again excellent in goal, but old problems came back to haunt the Ducks.
Against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, the Ducks consistently allowed the opposition to reach the critical areas of the ice. Rebounds were an issue too. Dylan DeMelo drove to the net, and former Ducks winger Bobby Ryan was there to bury the rebound.
The Ducks’ 27th-ranked power-play unit again failed to capitalize on three chances. The opportunities were there all night, but they just couldn’t find the touch.
“Over the season you’re going to have some highs, you’re going to have some lows,” Lindholm said. “Good teams find a way to keep the mood up and keep going because it’s not like we’re going to lose every game of the season. It’s going to turn around at some point.”