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Adam Brady is the Director of Publications & New Media for the Anaheim Ducks and Honda Center. Email him by CLICKING HERE.

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Updated January 29 at 12:34 p.m.

They're all pretty big right about now, but with the way things have gone the last couple of days, this one in Tampa Bay is huge.

As pumped up as the Ducks were following that thrilling comeback in St. Louis six days ago, they've been a little more deflated by what's transpired in the days since. Back-to-back losses in Atlanta and Washington have the Ducks 1-3-0 on this six-game road trip, though remarkably they're still just five points back of that coveted eighth spot in the West.

“Right now, I think our mental lift should be that we’re in a hunt for a playoff spot right now,” James Wisniewski told the O.C. Register yesterday. “We lost the last two games and we’re only four points [now five] behind. We’ve caught a little bit of a break in that teams have beaten each other. We’re still in the race. So I think right now we just need to bear down. Come March, these points are going to be harder to come by.”

They're all hard to come by on the road, something the Ducks have been reminded of this week. And tonight they try to get back on track against a Tampa Bay Lightning team who, like the Ducks, are currently out of playoff position. But they're streaking, having won their last three in a row (their first winning streak of that length this season) on a four-game homestand that ends tonight. The Ducks, you might recall, edged the Lightning at Honda Center last November 19, blowing a three-goal lead but bouncing back to win in overtime on a Scott Niedermayer goal.

The Ducks will not have Teemu Selanne in there tonight, even though Selanne joined the team for a light skate in Tampa yesterday afternoon. He also took part in the skate this morning, photos of which we've posted on our Facebook and Twitter pages. 

“I don’t know when I’m going to play," Selanne told reporters yesterday, revealing that the puck broke his jaw in three places and he had metal plates inserted in each fracture (ouch?). "Obviously I have to get my strength back and conditioning back and go from there. I don’t know if my jaw is ready to play anyway. But every day, it’s definitely better.”

The key for Selanne is getting back into playing shape after he lost about 13 pounds from having his teeth wired, keeping him from eating a lot of solid foods.

(Wait, 13 pounds? Anyone want to volunteer to break my jaw? Don't answer that.) 

Despite the bad breaks (no pun intended) Selanne's gone through this season with injuries -- he was three games back from a broken hand when he was struck in the face with the puck -- he appears to be taking it all in stride. “I’ve had a lot of good luck over the years," Selanne said. "I guess it’s time to have a little bad luck. Now I think it’s even.”

Ducks and Lightning drop the puck at 4:30 Pacific, and I can't think of a better way to spend an early Friday evening. And the Ducks, well they kind of need this one. 

Oh, and one more thing -- Bobby Ryan. (Read yesterday's post for an explanation.)

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Came across this photo on NHL.com and it made me laugh for some reason. Only because I never realized there was a third Sedin brother.

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Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg looked very good in beating the Ducks 2-1 on Tuesday night. But on this play last night against the Flyers, not quite as graceful. Every tried to put a sweater on and accidentally stuck your head into one of the sleeves? Kind of embarrassing, right? Imagine doing it in the middle of a hockey rink in front of thousands of people. At least his teammates got a good laugh out of it. 

Updated January 28 at 11:24 a.m.

In looking for a way to describe what happened to the Ducks last night in Washington, I couldn't come up with anything better than the way Corey Perry put it to reporters afterward:

“It’s a 1-1 game. We had them right where we wanted them going into the third. We gave up one quick one and then all of a sudden bang-bang-bang.”

It's a pretty good way to describe the shell-shocking turn of events in a game in which the Ducks were hanging tough against a very good Caps team. It was certainly a tough assignment for the Ducks, facing the league's most explosive team in the second of back-to-back road games. And when Alex Ovechkin scored just 36 seconds into it, things certainly looked bleak. (One thing about Ovechkin I've always noticed. If you knew nothing about hockey and were watching a Caps game, you would know right away that Ovechkin was the best player on the ice, just by the way he moves with the puck. Guys like Getzlaf and Crosby, same thing).

Despite that early Washington strike, Anaheim locked things down for the remainder of that period and all of the second, with great help from J.S. Giguere. Making his first start in more than three weeks, Giguere did everything he could to give the Ducks a chance, shooing away 44 Washington shots on net.

But three straight shots in a span of 2:30 early in the third period all but put the Ducks away in a 5-1 victory that was Washington's eighth straight. (If the Caps team aren't a lock for at least an Eastern Conference Finals berth, I don't know who is.)

"It's a little frustrating, because after that first goal in the period, it seemed like we just went flat," Giguere told reporters after the game. "We were still in it. It was an unfortunate bounce off Steve's skate, but these things are going to happen. It would have been important for us to come back and re-establish ourselves after that goal. But for some reason we didn't seem to have the energy anymore to fight it off."

Giguere was referring to the first Washington goal in the third, a shot by Shaone Morrisonn (whose name always looks like a typo to me) that kicked off Steve Eminger's left skate and got past Giguere. It was an unfortunate goal for the Ducks to give up after fighting so hard for most of the first two periods, and unfortunately it seemed to open the floodgates for the Caps.

And it was a tough turn of events for Giguere, who could have easily been rusty after not making more than a half-game appearance in the last 11 contests. “I had no ideas," Giguere said. "I just went in there and told myself to try to have fun. That’s what I tried to do today.”

Said Scott Niedermayer, “He played amazing. He really gave us the opportunity going into the third period to make something out of this game. It is disappointing as a player because you know how hard he works. He’s eager to get in there, and when he puts an effort like that, you want to do more for him and we didn’t tonight.”

And with the Wild dominating the Red Wings in a 5-2 victory last night, the Ducks fell a point behind Minnesota, but still remain four short of that eighth spot. And though it doesn't seem that long ago the Ducks were boosted by that comeback victory in St. Louis, they're suddenly 1-3-0 on this road trip. Game 5 of the journey is tomorrow night in Tampa, a game that's suddenly looming even larger than it already was. 

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One of the subplots of last night's game was the tussles between Bobby Ryan and Caps All-Star defenseman Mike Green, which came to a head when the two wrestled and traded blows behind the Caps net in the second period. (Nice reversal by Ryan, by the way, to get out from under Green and pin the defenseman to the ice before things got broken up. On another note, I've kept my streak intact in which I've mentioned Bobby Ryan in 257 straight blog posts.) Ryan also took a nasty hit in front of the benches from Ovechkin during the night.

Meanwhile, Mike Brown got into it with Matt Bradley off a faceoff in the third period, not long after Bradley put a hard hit on Matt Beleskey. Here was Brown's take on picking the fight with Bradley:

“That’s our team philosophy. We are going to stick up for one another. No matter who’s out there. We’ve got a lot of guys, a lot of bodies that can do that. We know if someone on our team is in a position that gets hit or what not, then those guys are going to step up.”

Part of the reason I bring this up is because I was listening yesterday to a podcast interview between ESPN.com's Bill Simmons and director Jason Reitman. He's the director of the George Clooney movie "Up in the Air" and he also directed "Juno" and "Thank You for Smoking." He's also Canadian and a huge hockey fan, and he was talking about someday making a hockey movie. He said he's always found the idea of the hockey "goon" fascinating. And though I don't normally care for the term "goon," I thought his take on those guys was interesting (interesting enough for me to transcribe it here):

What I find interesting about the goon is that it is presumed the goon is a monster, that he's this guy who just likes to beat people up, which is usually not the case. The goon is usually the nicest person on the hockey team, the guy you'd most like to grab a beer with, and often he's the guy who grabs a beer after the game with the guy he just beat up. It's usually the finesse players who can be kind of a tricky personality or the French Canadians. The goons are protectors and we forget that. The goons are the knights of hockey. They are only there to make sure these guys with natural talent don't get hurt. The goon is usually a guy who was a very good hockey player, but not a brilliant hockey player, who by virtue of his size and his nature to help people has gotten into the position of protecting these kids with natural talent. I would like to see a movie where you see a goon both in his real life and on the ice, who is kind of a softy -- almost like [the movie] The Wrestler. He's a protector, he's broken, but will do anything to protect the people around him.

Updated January 27 at 11:34 a.m.

We could hear the horrible clang from 3,000 miles away, Ryan Getzlaf's shot chipping paint off the pipe with 1 second left, a last-ditch effort in a frustrating 2-1 loss in Atlanta.

"I definitely knew where I wanted to go before I got it," Getzlaf said to the O.C. Register. "I got a good shot that unfortunately hit the outside of the post instead of the inside."

It's certainly something to point to in that game, but more to blame is the previous 59 minutes and 59 seconds, when the Ducks just couldn't seem to get much going on the offensive end. That included a power play that continues to have its difficulties on the road, as the Ducks came up empty on four opportunities. That included a power play deep into the third period that was wiped out halfway through by a Dan Sexton hooking call.

"Our first power play we had seven or eight shots," said Bobby Ryan. "We lost momentum. Everybody was trying to do too much."

A final chance at a man advantage -- the Ducks pulling Jonas Hiller for an extra attacker -- went awry in the final minute when Ryan Whitney was whistled for cross-checking after nailing Marty Reasoner into the wall behind the Atlanta net. The penalty left the Ducks only able to make it 5 on 5 with Hiller headed to the bench. And still the Ducks were able to get off that final Getzlaf attempt that missed by just a hair.

That shot was one of the few times the Ducks got anything past veteran Johan Hedberg, who was very sharp on his way to 34 saves. And he had to be, since Hiller didn't give up much of anything at the other end of the rink. Even when Maxim Afinogenov scored the go-ahead goal on the power play with 15:57 left in the game, I felt surprisingly calm. Based on what the Ducks have done lately, it seemed almost inevitable they would come back to tie it. But alas, they just never seemed to be able to pick it up enough when they needed it.

"We seemed to be a little bit off," Randy Carlyle said. "We bobbled passes. It was one of those (games) where you gave yourself a chance but we didn't execute in the critical situations."

The Ducks are going to have to find what they're looking for in a hurry, as they turn around and face a tough Washington team in about four hours. The Caps smoked the Islanders 7-2 last night, despite not getting a single point from Alex Ovechkin (who had a nine-game scoring streak going in) and top-scoring defenseman Mike Green. They've won seven in a row, all the while leading the NHL in scoring and power play proficiency.

It's another big one for the Ducks, who dropped to four points behind Detroit's eighth spot on a night when it easily could have been five. The Red Wings had a 4-2 lead at home over Phoenix as late as a minute and a half left in the third, when the Coyotes somehow managed to score twice to tie it and won it 3:50 into overtime.

Detroit plays tonight at Minnesota, who are just a point behind the Ducks, meaning it's hard to root for either team in that one. So yeah, pretty big one for Anaheim tonight.

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The website OregonLive.com has a nice story on Luca Sbisa, who was traded from his junior team in Lethbridge to the Portland Winterhawks a couple of weeks ago. After rehabbing that abdominal injury he suffered in the World Juniors, he just arrived in Portland, but without his luggage. "All I have are the clothes I wore on the plane yesterday," Sbisa says in the story. "I don't like flying."

I like how he threw that last part in there. 

Sbisa was asked what he learned during his relatively short time playing with Scott Niedermayer. I like his response because A. ) It says something about Niedermayer and B.) I love the idea of the 19-year-old Sbisa setting an example for younger guys.

"This is a guy who's won everything, but shows up every game like it's the most important game he's ever played," Sbisa said. "I want to teach that to the young guys here in Portland."

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The always-good John Buccigross of ESPN.com reminisces on the All-Star Game and comes up with his ways to improve it. Also, since there is no All-Star Game this year because of the Olympics, he picks the teams he'd like to see. Interestingly enough, he likes a Western Conference fourth line of Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Bobby Ryan. He doesn't choose a certain No. 27 for one of his six defensemen, but why quibble?

Updated January 26 at 3:18 p.m.

Maybe it's because I work for this hockey team, but there is something about these 4 p.m. Pacific starts I just love. It's one of those times it's okay to duck out a little early. Or if you stick around the office and turn it on the TV at your desk, it's the only time it's okay for employees around here to shout up and down the hallways.

And we've got those 4:00 puck drops each of the next two afternoons, starting in less than an hour with a tilt in Atlanta.

The Thrashers are a team most Ducks fans don't know a ton about, since we only see them once a year and tonight is just the second time Anaheim has faced them since the 2006-07 season. Here's a quick refresher: For the last eight seasons, things in Atlanta begin and end with Ilya Kovalchuk, who is again leading the team in scoring by a wide margin. (And he had a had trick in an 8-4 win over the Ducks in Anaheim in February of last year.) Although, there is plenty of speculation Kovalchuk could be dealt before seasons' end, since the 27-year-old is going to be a free agent (and a highly expensive one). A number of teams, including the Kings, are thought to be pursuing him right now.

But for now, he's still a Thrasher, and playing for a team that finds itself in a similar position to the Ducks. Atlanta's playoff contention is one of the factors holding up a possible trade, as they're three points out of a playoff spot, something they've only clinched once since the lockout. Anaheim is also three points back, but in 10th, with eighth-place Detroit playing home to Phoenix tonight.

The Thrashers have gotten good production out of rookie Evander Kane (11 goals this season), whom I only mention because I feel ancient every time I remember he got his name because his parents were big fans of Evander Holyfield. As soon as I see an NHL player named Dakota, I'm going to retire.

By the way, if you're in an area where you can't watch the game locally, the NHL is offering a free trial just for tonight of NHL GameCenter LIVE (a.k.a. one of the coolest things ever invented). You can watch the Ducks and all of the other out-of-market games streamed online, along with multi-game and DVR options (the latter of which has come in quite handy for me at times). Sign up for the free trial right here.

One thing the Ducks will have going for them -- aside from the newly reinforced confidence that no lead is too much to overcome -- is the return of Saku Koivu. After missing the last four games with a knee sprain suffered during that tough night in L.A., Koivu is expected to be in the lineup tonight. "It should be a go," was all he told reporters after the morning skate. See the photos of him and some other Ducks in the morning skate photos we posted on Facebook and Twitter. 

As far as that other Finn goes, he had an appointment with Ducks oral surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Pulver yesterday and is apparently recovering nicely from that fractured jaw. He's expected to join the team in Tampa (where they play the Lightning on Friday) and could skate as early as Thursday.

Selanne, meanwhile, has been skating at Anaheim Ice, where he's apparently as strong as ever (his words) after he shattered the glass with a puck today. Holding the puck in the photo is Ducks trainer Meaghan Beaudoin, who was standing outside the rink when Teemu playfully took a shot at her and he watched in horror as the glass shattered and the puck went all the way through. Meaghan, as you can see in the photo, was unharmed, aside from being covered with glass shards.

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NHL.com has a good feature on Ducks prospect Timo Pielmeier (currently playing for Anaheim's ECHL affiliate in Bakersfield), who just may be the goalie of the future around here. If he is, I'm definitely going to have to learn how to not take a minute and a half just to type his last name (lotta vowels in there).

Among the 20-year-old Pielmeier's comments in the feature: "Every coach asks me why I'm smiling. I say, I don't know. I just like my life. Why would I not laugh? If I keep working that hard, I'll have a great future ahead of me."

Updated January 26 at 9:48 a.m.

Marcia Smith of the O.C. Register has a very nice piece on the Lady Ducks Fashion Show, to be held Feb. 5 at Pelican Hill Resort.  (The story includes photos of several Ducks trying on their duds during a fitting.) The event raises money for CHOC, and if you're interested in contributing, call 877-WILDWING. 

Updated January 25 at 10:58 a.m.

A day and a half later and I'm still thinking about that Saturday night win in St. Louis.

I'm thinking about how after T.J. Oshie's goal made it 3-0 early in the third, I couldn't help think it was pretty much over for the Ducks. I'm thinking about how Scott Niedermayer's goal a couple minutes later gave a glimmer of hope; how Bobby Ryan's goal with eight minutes left gave a ton of hope.

I'm thinking about how Niedermayer seemingly played every shift in that third period, yet again refusing to show any sign of fatigue. I'm thinking about how he played a big part in that dramatic tying goal, retrieving his own blocked shot with the Anaheim net empty and managing to drop it back to the blue line. I'm thinking about Ryan Getzlaf's rocketed one-timer and Ryan somehow managing to get his stick down in a crowd to tip it in with exactly 30 seconds left. I'm thinking of how I leaped off my couch, screamed "OHMYGOD!!!" and jumped around my living room, for some reason standing closer to the TV as the Ducks celebrated.

And of course I'm thinking about that shootout, the Ducks running out of shooters as they approached the seventh round, and calling on James Wisniewski. I'm thinking about Ducks play-by-play guy John Ahlers suggesting he try a slap shot, but Wisniewski instead making a winger-like deke move and dumping the puck past a completely fooled Chris Mason for the game-winner.

I'm thinking about Wisniewski brashly skating along the wall, holding out his arms and giving a come-and-get-it wiggle of his fingers, despite being in an unfriendly arena.

(By the way, whether you like or dislike the shootout as a method of breaking ties in NHL games, tell me you weren't on the edge of your seat, your stomach tied up in knots during those anxious seven rounds.)

I'm thinking of how that comeback and that shootout victory may have single-handedly turned the tide of this crucial Ducks road trip, turning what could have been an 0-2 start into some serious optimism and a feeling that no deficit is too big for this team right now.

But despite the fact the schedule usually gets condensed on a long road trip, the Ducks (and their fans) will have had to wait three nights after the St. Louis win for another game. But then again, hanging on to the memories of that improbable win isn't such a bad thing.

Those memories carried over to Sunday morning, when I cracked open the O.C. Register sports page and read these comments by the likeable Wisniewski as he reminisced about his shootout winner. 

"My gloves get real sticky when they start getting wet so they don't slide on my stick," Wisniewski said. "Right before the shootout, I told Sluggo (equipment manager Doug Shearer) baby powder because baby powder makes the gloves slide. He looked at me like 'C'mon. Let's get real here.'

"So the fifth or sixth round comes and I'm like, 'Give me the baby powder. You never know.' I put it on. Randy's like, 'Wiz, you're up.' I went in there and pulled one out of my treasure chest and it went in."

Treasure chest?

Wisniewski said to the O.C. Register about being chosen for the shootout: “If it’s not working, try the d-men. We never get an opportunity. You never know.” And Ryan, who said Wiz "was a surprise pick for me," also revealed that "we play breakaway games every day and he’s always one of the guys that scores early enough. I know he’s got some poise with the puck. He did exactly everything right on that one.”

For whatever reason, I again watched Ryan's postgame TV interview with Ahlers and Brian Hayward, when he recounted his two huge third period goals. On this one, which was set up by a phenomenal pass from his knees by Dan Sexton, Ryan joked that "'Sexty' said he saw me coming, but I think he was lying." (I always thought they called him "Sexy," but I guess "Sexty" works too.)

Also on that postgame interview, Ryan appeared to not even remember how he scored the tying goal until he watched it on the monitor, giving credit to the Getzlaf missile that created all that havoc in front of the net.

Ryan later called the win "monumental. Those are two points that we definitely needed to try and lessen the gap. It shows that we're a very resilient team that's able to bounce back in the face of almost anything."

Indeed, the Ducks have six wins after being down going into the third, which equals the league lead. Saturday was the second time in the last month and a half Anaheim has overcome a 3-0 deficit in the third (the other coming on Sexton's first two career goals against Dallas last Dec. 8 at Honda Center).

Randy Carlyle, who made sure to credit the arduous on- and off-ice conditioning his teams have become known for, also said it's because the Ducks are "playing desperate hockey. When you play desperate, the will to win games is critical because every team is so evenly matched. Everybody has got banged-up lineups. Everybody's playing shorthanded. Everybody has the condensed schedule because of the Olympics. Everybody's playing lots of hockey. It's about will right now."

And it's helped the Ducks -- winners of eight of the last 10 -- scrap to within just three points of Detroit's eighth spot (with the Wings holding a game in hand). 

You know what else I'm thinking? I'm thinking I can't wait to watch this team play again.

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I'm not really sure exactly how to express how weird this next item is, but I'm going to try. Apparently when the Buffalo Sabres checked into their hotel last Friday in San Jose, they found themselves in the middle of a "furry" convention. Here's how it was described by Sabres website gal Erin Pollina in this story:

Lindy Ruff was the first to see it, as he began to laugh sitting at the front of the bus. Gradually, the rest of the team began to see what caused his reaction.

A horse. Well… a man dressed like a horse, was exiting the hotel lobby.

Soon, a zebra followed the horse. Rather, a woman dressed as a zebra.

As we peered in we could see a few dozen of the creatures walking around the main floor of the hotel – including a polar bear wearing a John Vanbiesbrouck jersey.

Apparently we stumbled onto a mascot convention that was being held at the hotel. The technical term, we soon found, was a “furry” convention.

Okay, but here's where it gets weird: Someone snapped this photo on the right and posted it on Twitter, a shot of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller posing with two furries in Ducks and Sharks jerseys. And here's where it gets REALLY weird: The Ducks jersey on the left? It's No. 18, which was last worn by Drew Miller, RYAN MILLER'S BROTHER.

You can't make this stuff up. Not only does this person own a Drew Miller jersey, but they somehow run into his brother while wearing one over a fox costume? I can't wrap my brain around how this possibly could have happened.

Updated January 22 at 12:34 p.m.

The bottom line? That's just a very good team they have up there in San Jose.

And yet, the Ducks played them better last night than in any of the previous four matchups this season, and came agonizingly close to taking them down for the first time. But a Ducks power play that has been so good at home -- and has puzzingly struggled on the road -- was especially glaring last night.

The Ducks couldn't convert after a Joe Thornton penalty just 10 seconds into the game, and again came up empty following a Thornton penalty near the end -- not to mention three other times in between, That was, as Ryan Getzlaf said, "pretty much the difference in the game." (And it's an area where the Ducks definitely do miss the presence of the injured Finns.)

That last one was especially tough to take, since the Ducks sent Jonas Hiller to the bench for the last 35 seconds of it, creating a 6-on-4 in the tension-filled final moments with the Ducks trailing by just a goal. The Ducks couldn't connect then and were still kept away from the net in the final minute after the penalty had ended. And I'm one Ducks fan who didn't even see Patrick Marleau's game-sealing goal, since I had my head in my hands by the time he got close to the empty net.

Rewinding back, the Ducks were neck-and-neck with the Sharks through the first period and into the second, until San Jose broke through (ironically) on a power play of their own. The Ducks were mere seconds away from killing off a Troy Bodie double-minor for high sticking (in which the double part was in question) when Marc-Edouard Vlasic connected on a point shot right off the draw.

"We were much closer in the game and the difference was that we made a mistake and they score a power play goal off a faceoff," Randy Carlyle said. "We have all but 8 seconds of it killed and we reacted poorly on the one draw by them."

A Rob Blake goal last in the second made it 2-0, but the Ducks got right back in it when Matt Beleskey (who continues to play his rear off) connected off a great drop pass by Kyle Chipchura. "Just what the Ducks needed," play-by-play guy John Ahlers called it, and with all that has gone right for the Ducks in the past 2 1/2 weeks, it almost seemed a foregone conclusion they would go on to tie it. That looked even more certain during the two-man advantage in crunch time -- but alas, it was not to be. Yet, the Ducks did a lot of things right last night, something that has to bode well for the rest of this trip.

My personal disappointment from watching that defeat turned into slight nausea as I watched the only remaining game on my alternate living room TV (with the Ducks postgame on the bigger one). In my role as brand-new hardcore Sabres fan, I cringed as the Kings erased a 3-2 deficit in the third period and edged Buffalo in a shootout. That boosted the Kings to seventh in the West, six points ahead of the Ducks, who trail the new eighth-place team (Detroit) by five.

Yeah, it's a little odd scoreboard watching in January, but something Petteri Nokelainen said to the O.C. Register yesterday seemed to justify it.

“Actually pretty much every night,” Nokelainen said of how often he's checking up on the other teams. “I don’t think you really should. I’ve never did that before. But it’s amazing that in January, you’re looking at what the other teams are doing. You’re going online on the days you’re not playing, and you’re checking the scores. You’re checking the standings. But that’s what it is, and that’s what makes it exciting right now.”

Yep, exciting. That's what it is. Exciting.
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George Parros used the flight out to San Jose to tap out the latest version of his blog on the L.A. Times website. Parros, commenting on the bad turbulence the flight endured as a result of the storms hitting California, wrote that it was good that noted bad flyer Teemu Selanne wasn't on the trip.

There is no way we could have completed a card game because he constantly has to leave his seat for one at the front of the plane. The new resident "bad flier" of the group was our equipment manager, Doug Shearer. He was in such rough shape. He pulled the old "parakeet maneuver" and draped a blanket completely over his head. I can't say that I have ever seen that one before.

Parros, by the way, was in the lineup last night for the first time since New Year's Eve after spending time on the IR with an injured hand. And he made his presence felt early by dropping the gloves with Ryan Clowe just 3:53 into the game.

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Courtesy of Russian youth hockey, today's version of here's something you don't see every day on the ice. Mind you, these are nine-year-olds.

Updated January 21 at 2:43 p.m.

While the Ducks may have been hoping to ease into this six-city, 12-day road trip, they're facing what is likely their toughest test right off the bat in San Jose.

Actually, the first tough test for the Ducks on this voyage may have been the flight itself. The storms that have been pounding California the past couple of days did a number on the Ducks' charter yesterday.

“It was a white-knuckler,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said in Dan Wood's story right here. “They warned us it would be rough. Once you hit a certain elevation, it smoothed out, but once you went under that, it was rough again.”

Hockey-wise, the Ducks get the Sharks tonight in one of the loudest buildings in the NHL, HP Pavilion (also known as The Shark Tank). And it's a Sharks team that, yeah, hasn't been too shabby lately. San Jose is 5-0-1 in its last six games, the last win being a 5-1 trouncing of the Kings in Los Angeles. That might be considered a convincing victory for the Sharks if they hadn't just annihilated Calgary the night before in San Jose.

Meanwhile, the Sharks have had the Ducks' number this season (unlike last spring), winning all four games between the two teams.

That said, Anaheim wasn't playing the kind of hockey in those previous matchups that it is right now, winners of seven of the last eight (six of those against teams currently in playoff position). But it's not enough that the Ducks are playing well, they need to start by neutralizing a top line of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau that has killed Anaheim in the previous matchups.

“We need to play more in-your face and be on them and not sit back,” Perry said. “Their big line has taken it to us and they’re whole team has.”
The Ducks continue to be without Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu (the latter of which is on the road trip and is targeting a Tuesday return) and San Jose lost one of its biggies for tonight. Defenseman Dan Boyle is out with an "upper-body injury."

That makes things a little easier for the Ducks team that faces a stern test tonight, after which they head to St Louis, then Atlanta, then Washington, then Tampa, then Florida (Matt Vevoda did a nice job examining the road trip right here.)

“Guys are going to get to know each other,” Perry said. “It’s a lot of fun being on the road.”

Of course, there's nothing more fun than winning. Let's hope that kind of fun starts tonight.

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Updated January 20 at 2:22 p.m.

When the Ducks sprung out to a 4-0 lead over the Buffalo Sabres in record time last night at Honda Center, I doubt anyone who knows anything about this team thought the game was over. 

After all, these are the 2009-10 Ducks, the team for which there is never a dull moment.

And this was the Buffalo Sabres, a team too good to lie down after an early disadvantage.

So when the Ducks were forced to hang on for dear life over yet another terrifying final minute, it wasn't exactly shocking. But oh, was it gratifying when the Ducks sent the puck out of their area one last time and that final horn mercifully sounded on a stressful 5-4 victory.

No matter how they pulled it off, this was a pretty impressive one for the Ducks. Buffalo came in on top of the Eastern Conference, having gone 8-0-3 in their last 11 games and hadn't lost in regulation since December 23. They also hadn't fallen to a Western Conference team before last night (7-0-1).

Admitedly, the Ducks did catch a break when backup Patrick Lalime got the nod last night since Ryan Miller (probably the league's best goalie so far this year) had been in net the night before during a 7-2 blowout in Phoenix. And to say the Ducks took quick advantage is an understatement.

Anaheim set team records for fastest two goals (1:53), fastest three goals (5:23) and fastest four goals (10:26) to start a game, putting an eye-popping 4-0 lead on the scoreboard when the first period was barely halfway over. We'll recap those four goals almost as fast as they were scored:

- Getzlaf on a rebounder backhander after a great effort to put the puck on net by Perry
- Artyukhin on a speedy breakaway backhander as Lalime didn't get a good push to defend it
- Mike Brown on a chip-in set up by more speed and a great pass by Artyukhin
- Bobby Ryan on a tip-in up high after a wrist shot by Getzlaf from the point

It was during the replay of that fourth goal -- to determine if it was knocked in with a high stick -- that Lalime's night was finished and Miller took his spot between the pipes. And he showed why he leads the league in both goals-against and save percentage while his team was mounting a comeback in the second period. They scored two goals before most fans had returned to their seats from the intermission, and by the 6:12 mark Anaheim's lead was cut to 4-3.

And as if that wasn't heartbreaking enough, just 24 seconds after that third Buffalo goal, Ryan Getzlaf was struck in the face with the puck above the right eye and tumbled to the ice. He left a trail of gushing blood as he immediately headed off to the locker room, getting a towel along the way to contain the bleeding. Thankfully, Getzlaf returned later in the period, sporting a stitched-up cut that has him looking vaguely like a certain well-known book/movie character. (I've never seen any of the movies nor read the books, so credit reader Jen for pointing this out.)

(By the way, in case you need any reminder of how much you love hockey, how about a guy taking a speeding puck to the face, bleeding all over the place, and RETURNING TO THE GAME 10 MINUTES LATER?) 

Remarkably, in a game with seven combined goals that took a combined 16:38 to score, neither team found the net for a good part of the third period. That's partly because Miller was his stingy self and Jonas Hiller had one of the best nights a guy who gave up four goals could have, racking up 41 saves on the night.

It wasn't until there was 4:07 left in the game that Troy Bodie scored a monstrous insurance goal for the Ducks, picking up an errant Jason Pominville pass in the Buffalo end and lifting is just high enough to elude Miller's leg pad.

That goal would take on added importance when Jochen Hecht banged in a one-timer with the Buffalo net empty to make it 5-4 Ducks (eliciting a "What the Hecht???" text from a fellow Ducks staffer). But Anaheim held tight over the final minute, with Todd Marchant ejecting the puck out of the zone one last time before the clock wound down to triple-zero and the sweet sound of that horn filled the air inside Honda Center.

"Tonight wasn't the prettiest effort throughout the whole game, but we were able to get that early lead and hold it," said Getzlaf.

You've got to give it to Getzlaf. He has a goal, an assist, returns to a game in which he takes a puck to the face and sums up a heart-stopping, topsy-turvy, frantic 60 minutes of hockey in one simple sentence. If that's not your player of the game, then I don't know what is.

Pretty or not, the win pulled the Ducks -- not long ago a dozen points out of a playoff spot -- within four of the eighth-place Kings in the Western Conference. And that win and that positioning (despite the absence of the two Finns) is even more vital when you consider the Ducks leave this afternoon for a six-game road trip that will cover 7,510 miles in 12 days.

(In case you didn't already know the Ducks were on the road for a few days, here is what Honda Center looks like right now in preparation for three days of Professional Bull Riders this weekend.)

“If you want to be a playoff team, you’re going to have to win on the road,” Randy Carlyle said. “We put ourselves in a position now where we’re challenging."

And if last night -- heck the last four months -- are any indication, one thing this road trip won't be ... is boring.

- - -

Two additional items for the day.

The more I stare at this Bobby Ryan Iowa Chops bobblehead on my desk -- and the longer a certain Ducks rookie is up with the big club -- the more I'm thinking it looks a lot more like Troy Bodie than it does Bobby Ryan. Take a look for yourself.

Bodie, it should be known, did play 71 games for the Chops last season. I'm thinking a certain bobblehead designer was given the wrong headshot. Just a theory.

And finally, think you're a diehard Ducks fan? Let's see you sporting this bad boy around the office.

Photos courtesy of OCRegister.com
Updated January 19 at 3:08 p.m.

The Sabres had to be looking forward to getting out of Buffalo and into Southern California in the dead of winter -- and this is what they've been met with. 

Several inches of rain throughout Southern California, a severe thunderstorm on its way, wind gusts getting as high as 70 mph and even a (gasp) tornado warning issued earlier this afternoon.

Yes, a tornado warning. This is not the stuff they were thinking about when they based a half dozen reality shows in Orange County. Otherwise there would be a show called The Real Housewives of Topeka.

We're pretty safe down here in the underground lair that is the Honda Center offices, but it's definitely pretty ugly out there. Right now I'm watching a helicopter shot on the KCAL 9 news of someone rowing a canoe through an intersection in which several cars are halfway under water.

The only thing reasonably warm right now is the actual Buffalo Sabres (I know, worst transition ever), who come into this game tonight as probably the hottest team in the NHL. Fresh off a 7-2 victory last night in Phoenix, the Sabres are 8-0-3 over their past 11 games and have not lost in regulation since before Christmas. And despite playing in the Eastern Conference -- which has a noticeably worse record against the West than the other way around -- Buffalo has somehow managed to go 7-0-1 against Western Conference teams.

But that means little to the Ducks, who despite a tough loss last Thursday, have been nearly as on fire as the Sabres. "I think (winning) six of the last seven, we’re going to continue and do our thing instead of worrying about the room across from us," said Bobby Ryan after practice yesterday. "I think this room, the morale is high, the confidence is high. We’ll know their tendencies going in, so it’s not going to matter tomorrow night when the puck drops.”

What might matter a little bit is the fact that Ryan Miller, arguably the best goalie in the league this year, might not go tonight after tending the net last night in Phoenix. That means backup Patrick Lalime would be in net. You might remember Lalime two seasons ago when he was with Chicago and started this fistfight with then-Duck Todd Bertuzzi. You'll also see in the video Corey Perry trading blows during the brawl with a Blackhawk named James Wisniewski.

No matter who dons the mask, they benefit from a Buffalo defense that is tied with New Jersey and Vancouver for fewest even-strength goals allowed and third in the league in penalty killing efficiency. If you're watching tonight, you'll no doubt notice the guy largely responsible for that, 6-foot-8 rookie Tyler Myers. The 19-year-old leads all rookies in assists, plus-minus and ice time (the latter also leading the Sabres).

So, taking down the Sabres is a tall order, but an enticing one for the Ducks who could pull within four points of eighth place with a win, as the No. 8 Kings host San Jose at home at the same time tonight. The Sharks, by the way, had us tempering our excitement over that Calgary victory by beating the Flames 9-1 LAST NIGHT. 

One thing we'll undoubtedly see in this arena tonight is the return of the large number of Buffalo transplants donning their blue and gold jerseys and cheering the Sabres. Just like with Detroit, the Sabres always draw a lot of fans who got the heck out of their hometowns and relocated down here.

And the Ducks would like nothing more than to ruin their nights, and make sure this weather isn't the only thing making Buffalo's trip to SoCal a dreary one.

- - -

In case you haven't seen photos from Friday night's '70s-themed Casino Night -- and you've always wondered what the Ducks would look like in Afro wigs --  here they are right here. Another highlight from the night, just like with every Ducks charity event, was Todd Marchant's forcing the Ducks rookies to make lengthy speeches in front of the crowd. Dan Sexton was the first victim Friday night, and despite repeated attempts to wrap up his monologue and get the heck off the stage, Marchant wouldn't let him budge and he had to keep improving. OC blogger Suzanne Broughton recorded video of it and put it on YouTube.

As Sexton was struggling for material, some woman yelled, "Who is your favorite Jonas brother?" Thankfully, he didn't answer. When he was reminded that his nickname is "Big Sexy," he humbly said, "Yeah, and I'm neither of those things, but I guess that's what makes it funny." And asked who his best friend on the team is, he actually said, "I don't know if Koivu is here, but he's been a great dude to me so far."


Afterward it was Troy Bodie's turn, and the kid looked a lot more comfortable than Sexton speaking to the crowd. His best line, when talking about his buddy Sexton, "Now every time Danny hears 'Hey, sexy' he turns around."

Updated January 18 at 1:03 p.m.

They call times like these "gut checks," and the Anaheim Ducks showed they've got plenty in their bellies so far.

The loss (again) of Teemu Selanne to a fractured jaw, compacted with the loss of Saku Koivu for 1-2 weeks with a knee sprain was thought to be a major blow to the Ducks attack. (And let's face it, it certainly doesn't make things any easier for Anaheim.) But that hardly showed last night when the Ducks hung five goals on the visiting Flames in a 5-4 victory, Anaheim's sixth win in the last seven.

You see, when you lose guys to injury -- when you find yourself in "gut check" time -- you need other guys to step up and make their presences felt. That can come from other veteran players who you can usually count on to provide a spark. It can come from the younger players who are getting their chance to shine.

The Ducks got both last night in taking down Calgary for a jaw-dropping (excuse the expression, Teemu) 11th straight time at Honda Center.

That home stretch of dominance is baffling when you consider the fact that the Flames aren't exactly doormats. They are one of just a few teams (along with the Ducks) to have made the postseason every year since the lockout, including one Northwest Division title. And they're among the top eight in the West again this year. But there is something about playing at Honda Center that doesn't agree with the Flames. Granted, they came into last night's game mired in a slump in which they'd dropped five of their last six. But they looked like they might break out of it when they carried that 4-3 lead into the third period.

But then Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan happened.

Perry scored 7:10 into the third to tie the game, Ryan notched the eventual game-winner with 7:17 left and both were prototypical goals from the guys who scored them. Perry's came as a result of him causing commotion in front of the net, as he dragged a loose puck out of a pile and roofed it home (assist, rookie Matt Beleskey). Ryan's came on one of those "no-he-can't-possibly-bury-that-shot-HOLY-LORD!!!" goals he's scored so many times, as he somehow found the high corner of the net on the far side off a wrister from the right wing circle.

From there, the defense and Jonas Hiller (another "veteran" the Ducks have counted on a number of times) held the lead intact, notably over a feverish final minute where Calgary had a two-man advantage via a pulled goalie and a Perry penalty.

The defense came up big to polish off what was hardly a flawless game for them. Three of Calgary's four goals came on breakaways, and the Ducks were put in a tough position of having to simply outscore a team -- something not all that easy with the absence of the two Finns.

But they managed to do it, staying in the game with the help of two of their young guys -- namely Dan Sexton and Troy Bodie -- with a little veteran presence thrown in. That was evident on Sexton's power play goal, as Ryan Getzlaf gave him a beauty of a feed in front and Sexton redirected it through. Later in that first period (which had five goals combined), Bodie got the first of his NHL life when a Kyle Chipchura pass was kicked away by Calgary goalie Curtis McElhinney and the puck bounced off Bodie's shin and went in. A short video replay determined that Bodie did not deliberately kick it in and the goal was good. (Meanwhile, Todd Marchant yet again picked up the puck and gave it to an equipment guy for Bodie to keep as a souvenir.) Hardly an ideal way to get your first goal, something Bodie acknowledged after the game.

"Usually in the American League, you can tell someone that you went end to end and buried it," Bodie said with a laugh. "You can't get away with that in this league. They've got video evidence."

Of course, as much as Bodie got the crowd on his side for that goal, he really did it with a hit he put on Calgary's Adam Pardy in the second period, driving him into the Anaheim bench, then stuffing him in there like trying to cram a large pizza box into a full garbage can. 

He was asked later which -- the goal or the hit -- was more fun, and he had trouble deciding. "Both were firsts," he said. "I've never dumped anyone in there like that. The goal kind of takes the cake."

By the way, we can't forget to mention the beauty of a goal Evgeny Artyukhin provided in that whirlwind first period. Starting deep in his own end, Artyukhin turned on that shocking speed we've seen so many times, went around Cory Sarich like he wasn't even there and flipped a wrist shot off the back of the net. It was a gorgeous do-it-yourself goal that almost got forgotten among the nine that were scored last night.

But it was a big one that gave the Ducks another much-needed victory as they try to put together another run like the one that got rudely interrupted last Thursday in L.A. The Ducks again sit six points out of a playoff spot with Buffalo coming to town tomorrow, and the Ducks continue to see what they can find deep in those guts of theirs.

BR put it well last night. "Right now," he said, "we're rallying around each other."

- - -

So, this just in: At 36 years old, I've managed to find a new thing I absolutely suck at. And that new thing would be laser tag.

Last night after the game, I begrudgingly joined members of our game entertainment staff and about eight or nine Power Players at Laser Quest in Fullerton for a couple of rousing games of a sport I had somehow gone my whole life without playing. (But hey, I figured if Barney Stinson thinks it's cool, maybe it's not so bad.)

And it's not. But I definitely am.

Basically, the game involves running around a darkened maze-like room full of two levels of walls and ledges, and you just try and shoot everybody in sight. The game is so technologically advanced that it's able to tell you exactly who "shot" you and who you shot. And after each time you're shot, you feel a buzz on the heavy vest you're wearing and you're down for five seconds (this happened a lot to me). We played two half-hour games of it. In the first one, I finished a respectable 13th out of about 28 players. In the second one, I somehow got worse --  an embarrassing 26th. Maybe it's because the idea of trying to gun down a Ducks Power Player just didn't seem right to me. Or maybe it's because my pacifist parents didn't let me have guns when I was growing up.

Either way, I think the lowest point was when I spent a good 15 seconds shooting at a mirror.

Regardless, just add "laser tag with Power Players" to the list of activities -- along with things like sipping beer out of the Stanley Cup -- that make this job so blissfully bizarre sometimes.

Updated January 15 at 12:55 p.m.

The thing about winning streaks is, they all have to come to an end sometime.

It just would have been nice if the Ducks' recent five-gamer didn't have to fall that way.

But that's the way it went last night at Staples Center, where the Ducks had a tough go of it against a Kings team desperate to break out of its recent funk and maintain a stranglehold on the eighth spot in the Western Conference.

Actually, strangling was about the only thing that didn't go down during a hard-to-watch third period that had a combined 69 penalty minutes. Most of that came from repeated scraps after whistles that made a 20-minute period feel like it lasted an hour and a half.

"I think the frustration level certainly set in," Ryan said afterwards. "We’ve said before, that our team is a team that gets frustrated and loses composure there, and I think you saw the result of it.”

Los Angeles turned the tide of the game with three goals in the second period, though the one that gave them a 4-0 lead came with some controversy. Wayne Simmonds' seemingly innocent shot from the corner hit the side of the net and bounded into the crease, where J.S. Giguere (who replaced Jonas Hiller after the third Kings goal) didn't see it and kicked it backwards toward the stripe. Video replays showed no indication of where the puck was since it was hidden under Giguere's skate and leg pad. But since a linesman ruled a good goal on the ice, there was no conclusive evidence to overturn it.

It certainly wasn't a game-changer, but a frustrating moment on a frustrating night for the Ducks (who also lost Saku Koivu to a lower-body injury in the second and there is no word yet on the severity of it). That third period only added gasoline to the fire of this heated rivalry that for the first time in a half-decade sees the Kings currently in better position than the Ducks. And by the looks of things last night at Staples Center, L.A.'s fans -- who have always seemingly hated the Ducks more than the other way around -- were eating that up. 

The good news? The Ducks and Kings play four more times this year. And something tells me those games are gonna matter.

- - -
We've finally gotten the long-awaited first Timmy Marchant: Ace Reporter video of the season. It seems a little dated by now, but it's Timmy asking the Ducks some holiday-related trivia questions, most of which they fail miserably at answering. (The author of A Christmas Carol is Tim Burton, BR? Really?)

One highlight was Timmy asking Bobby Ryan how many times Santa checks his list. Ryan, unsure of himself, says "Twice ... right? Yeah, twice." Timmy responds with, "You don't have to say it like a hundred times."

At one point he accuses Mike Brown of cheating by looking at the cards after Brown says Santa has nine reindeer. Brownie shoots back with, "You've got to hold them better."

Here's the video:

- - -

And speaking of video, we're going to try and shoot some stuff at Casino Night exclusively for our Twitter and Facebook followers. So, if you haven't signed up for those, you might want to.

Updated January 14 at 2:16 p.m.

It's not everyday that an injury can steal the spotlight from a thrilling comeback victory, a fifth straight win for a team in need of fifth straight wins. But when it's Teemu Selanne and it's a puck to the face, you get headlines like this one in this morning's O.C. Register:


Or this one in the L.A. Times:


The fractured jaw Selanne suffered with 8:24 left in the third period cast a bit of a pall over a huge Ducks victory that saw them erase a one-goal deficit in the final period. A shot from the point by Ryan Whitney deflected off the stick of Boston's Miroslav Satan, bounced off the ice and struck Selanne in the side of the face. He immediately crumpled to the sheet holding his face, probably the scariest moment we've seen at Honda Center since James Wisniewski was taken off on a stretcher during last year's playoff series with Detroit.

After a few minutes down on the ice with trainer Tim Clark tending to him, Selanne was eventually helped off while pressing a towel to his heavily bleeding face. Surgery is scheduled for today and we have yet to hear an official time frame for his return. Randy Carlyle, who revealed the diagnosis to reporters after the game, had this to say:

"Obviously, he will be unavailable to us for a number of days, weeks, here going forward. We'll have to see what kind of time frame they're going to give us."

It's certainly a blow to the Ducks and a heartbreaking twist of fate for Selanne, who was playing just his third game after missing 17 with a broken bone in his hand. (And he had goals in each of the first two games back before last night.)

"That is unfortunate for Teemu," Carlyle said. "We all know how much he loves to play the game. Injuries are things that happen during the course of the season. I don't how to explain it. Why does it happen to one player over another?"

Dan Sexton had a pretty poignant quote about the whole thing this morning. “It’s weird that he just came back and then now he’s out," said Sexton, who pounced upon the opportunity he was given by Selanne's initial lengthy absence. "You feel pretty poorly for a guy who’s that nice and that upbeat and positive all the time even when he is injured. For him to get injured two times in a row like that -- it sucks when bad things happen like that to such good people.”

Selanne went down with the Ducks clinging to the 4-3 lead they would brilliantly hold onto until the final horn, despite a flurry in the closing moments when the Bruins were threatening with a 6-on-4 advantage provided by an Anaheim penalty and a pulled goalie. Jonas Hiller made a couple of huge stops with Boston shooters so close he could smell their breath, helping the Ducks protect that slim cushion.

They built that lead thanks to a couple of huge goals in the third, the first by Ryan Getzlaf early in the period and the eventual game-winner by Steve Eminger, his first as a Duck. Getzlaf's net-denter 1:59 into the period was a gorgeous high wrister that was indication of why Carlyle is constantly asking him to shoot the puck more. But the real star of the play may have been Wisniewski, who made a pinpoint pass from the right wing to Getzlaf to set it up (Johnny Ahlers: "Whatta goal!"). It was one of a number of notable plays by Wiz, who had slammed awkwardly into the back wall early in the second period and was down when Zdeno Chara scored Boston's first goal. Wisniewski left the ice gingerly, but returned soon afterward to have a brilliant game. 

Eminger's go-ahead tally was a right-place-at-the-right-time moment, as Bobby Ryan took a shot that bounced high off goalie Tuukka Rask and came down just short of the goal line. Eminger pounced quickly to poke it over the stripe.

Both Eminger and Wisniewski were part of the setup to the goal that gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead. A Wisniewski rocket off an Eminger point pass created a rebound in front that Bobby Ryan whiffed on, but Sexton was there to pick up the loose change.

(One of the things that always makes me laugh when I watch youth hockey games is how when a kid scores a goal, he seemingly can't wait to sprint to the bench and get high fives. Sexton appears to be the same way, which you can see at the tail end of this video.)

Another enthusiastic Ducks rookie, Matt Beleskey, punched in a huge goal in the second period that briefly tied the game 2-2, Beleskey's fourth career goal, all coming in the last five games. Crazy. 

Hard to believe, considering where the Ducks were a week ago, but last night's win pulled them to within just four points of the eighth-place spot, currently held by tonight's opponent - the L.A. Kings.

In a game they'd absolutely love to have, the Ducks catch the Kings in the middle of a three-game losing streak. A team that not long ago had a short-lived hold on the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference has a 3-7-0 record in their last 10. Sure, each game matters at this point, but this one matters just a little bit more.

“It’s a big four-point swing for us tomorrow,” said Ryan. “We’ve closed the gap in the Pacific Division a little bit. Obviously them being our rival, we know that we’re going into a tough building and it’s a tough team to play against right now.”

Hard to believe, but it's the first regular season trip to Staples Center for the Ducks since -- get this -- last January 8, when Ryan had a hat trick thanks to this goal I'm sure you remember. Put another way, it's been so long since the Ducks played a regular season game at Staples that Bobby Ryan was wearing 54 the last time they were there.

Just to clarify (based on the emails I've been getting this morning), the game is definitely on TV tonight. It's on FS West, which is technically the Kings home broadcast. And in case that's not enough for you, I'll be there tonight doing the live game log, hoping that both teams prolong their streaking ways.

Updated January 13 at 1:14 p.m.

It always feels kind of special when we welcome an Eastern Conference foe to Honda Center, and even more so for a team that hasn't been here in more than two years. 

The Boston Bruins step into Honda Center for the first time since October 10, 2007, which just happened to be the night the Ducks raised their championship banners to the arena's rafters (ah, memories). Yet, it's the second time the Ducks have faced the Bruins this season, the first being one of the more satisfying wins of the year -- a decisive 6-1 decision on October 8 at TD Garden.

Since that time, the Bruins have been besieged by injuries and a lack of a scoring touch, though it hasn't damaged them too much in the standings. They've lost a troubling 82 man games to injury or illness this season, the latest being especially concerning. Top line center Marc Savard suffered a partial MCL tear just 28 seconds into a loss to Chicago last Thursday night, and will be out a few weeks.

It's a big hit to a Bruins team that is already having trouble finding the net, as they rank 28th in the NHL with 2.48 goals per game and have scored two or fewer in more than half their games.  But what has kept them in it is a defense that ranks fourth in goals allowed and a penalty kill that's No. 1 in the league, led by the always-tough Tim Thomas in goal.

That's a major reason why the Bruins, despite their struggles and a 1-3-0 record since the Winter Classic, are still hanging out in fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Which brings us to our next topic -- Why the West is so much better than the East.

Through last night's games, Western Conference teams are 89-50-18 in games against Eastern Conference teams for 196 standings points. The East vs. the West? A 68-72-17 record for just 153 points -- an eye-opening difference of 43 points.

It's just another reminder that the Ducks, despite owning the longest winning streak in the NHL right now (four games) and sitting just six points back of eighth place, are still facing a tough climb to a playoff spot in the West. They're 12th right now with 47 points, a number that would have them just one point out of a spot in the East. (And let's not even speculate how that 47 points would be higher if the Ducks were facing Eastern Conference opponents most nights and facing the relatively easier travel that conference enjoys.)

Said Bob Murray in that interview with Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times: "No disrespect for the East, but our conference is very competitive. And it's very, very tough to pass teams."

How's this for competitive? Half of the West teams that made the dance last year -- Anaheim, Detroit, Columbus and St. Louis -- are out of playoff position as of this morning.

Last year the Ducks nabbed the eighth seed with 91 points, but it's going to take more than that to get it this year. The Kings currently sit in eighth with 53 points in 46 games, which is on pace for just about 94 1/2 points for an 82-game season. The higher number comes from the large amount of overtime/shootout games (also known as three-point games) along with the domination of the West over the East.

The lesson? The Ducks are certainly in the playoff picture but they can't let the proverbial foot off the proverbial accelerator. And the next step in that climb is tonight against the B's.
- - -

Curtis Joseph, the fourth-winningest goalie of all time and owner of one of the coolest nicknames ("CuJo") in a league full of cool nicknames, officially announced his retirement yesterday after a 19-year NHL career.

You wouldn't initially think the Ducks would have much to do with the reporting of the announcement, but here was the lead in the Canadian Press story that ran yesterday:

David McNab was a big believer in the power of a baseball cap. He would send them to prospects whom he felt needed encouragement and, as a scout with the Hartford Whalers, he'd often take the extra step of writing personal letters as he did with one unheralded goaltender a little more than 20 years ago.

Curtis Joseph was playing amateur hockey in Saskatchewan at the time, and can remember running through the cold to the mailbox. In an era before the Internet, the promise of a free National Hockey League media guide was a big deal and the encouragement meant even more.

"In this business, sometimes there are really good players who maybe need to be reminded they're really good players - the guys who aren't drafted and things like that," said McNab, now senior vice-president of hockey operations with the Anaheim Ducks. "Sometimes, it's not the worst thing in the world to tell somebody, 'Geez, you really are good, and you really do have a great chance to play in the NHL."'

Joseph eventually clawed his way into the NHL as an undrafted free agent, en route to becoming an all-star, playoff hero and the fourth-leading winner among all goaltenders in league history. And on Tuesday, the 42-year-old brought the unlikely journey to a close, thanking McNab early in an upbeat news conference at the Air Canada Centre.

Updated January 12 at 2:34 p.m.

The following line might be as unexpected as Mark McGwire did steroids, but here it is anyway:

What a difference a week has made for the Anaheim Ducks.

Seven days ago at this time, the Ducks were swimming in the wake of three straight losses on the road, the last two at Nashville and Chicago, were 12 points out of a playoff spot and were without Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne.

And now? The Ducks have been kick-started by four straight wins at home, the last two on back-to-back nights at Nashville and Chicago, now sit six points back of a playoff spot, while Getzlaf and Selanne are back in the lineup and coming up big.

“It’s certainly dramatic what a week can change as far as a team’s outlook goes,” Bobby Ryan told the O.C. Register. “Confidence is high right now. When you play with confidence, it’s going to translate onto the ice. The guys have a lot of faith in each other. We’re seeing the dividends of a lot of hard work and a lot of guys coming together.”

And a Ducks team that has leaned on some second-half surges the past few seasons is off to a 4-1-0 start to the second half of this one.

"Put them in a room and you kind of wait for things to jell," Murray said in a lengthy conversation with Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times. "Sometimes it takes awhile. Injuries are a factor, and we have a whole bunch of new guys who are getting used to the coach. You're starting to see a few things that show a little team chemistry. [Nashville's] Shea Weber is getting a one-timer at the point and guys are going down to block the shot. The little things are starting to happen.

"There's no easy way to play this game and I think at times people in this group try to play the game the easy way," Murray said. "But we're starting to drive the net. We're starting to block shots. We've started to put our body on the line a little more than we have before. We're playing much harder in the tougher areas right now and we're getting the goaltending."

Ah, the goaltending. Jonas Hiller, after what he's done the past four games -- notably over the weekend in those back-to-backs -- is suddenly the hottest goalie in the league.In the last month, that's 12 starts he's given up more than two goals only twice. And in those last four games, he's got a 1.50 goals-against average and .954 save percentage

“I just try to go out there and play my best game every night,” Hiller said. “It doesn’t really matter what the situation is. If I’m the first goalie or the backup. If we’re the top-seeded team or the last seeded team. Definitely, I want to show every night that I’m able to be a No. 1 goalie in this league. That’s what I have to do every night. It’s working pretty well right now but I have to keep going.”

Hiller came up huge in the second of a back-to-back Sunday at Chicago. We'll see if he's asked to serve double-duty again when the Ducks host Boston tomorrow and play a big one at L.A. on Thursday, the very team that sits six points in front of Anaheim.

It's all part of the Ducks' continuing quest to make another second half surge. "We've climbed this hill before so I believe we can do it again," Murray said. "It's going to be as tough as any time we ever did it."

- - -

There were a couple more interesting comments from Murray in his interview with Elliott. Notably, he insisted that there are no plans to trade Scott Niedermayer this year, despite some speculation to the contrary.

"That’s another one that seems to circulate," Murray said. "No. Scotty and I have been talking and he’s going to retire an Anaheim Duck. And that’s the way it’s going to be unless he tells me different. I have an agreement with Scotty and it’s my word. We’ve talked about this. I see him staying here. Who knows, he might play next year."

Updated January 11 at 12:54 p.m.

As amped up as the rest of the team may have been, you'll forgive Jonas Hiller if he slept on the plane all the way from Chicago to Orange County.

Hiller played what was likely his best game of the season yet to lead the Ducks on Sunday to a win over the NHL's best team, the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Ducks took that game -- their fourth in a row, no less -- despite trying a franchise record for fewest shots on goal and giving up 43 to the Hawks. And the reason, for the most part, was Hiller, who carried the Ducks despite playing the second game of a back-to-back. He was also very sharp the night before during a 3-2 win in Nashville.

After the game, Hiller was interviewed on the telecast by John Ahlers and Brian Hayward and this is the first thing he said: "I'm just looking forward to going home and getting in my bed."

Later he told reporters, "I can definitely say it was one of my best games this year. We played pretty solid defensively. I saw most of the shots. We were cleaning the rebounds. It was a big effort from everybody."

Indeed, Hiller had some help in front of him from a Ducks defense that got in the way to block 16 shots. And on the other end of the rink, they got big goals from Corey Perry and Saku Koivu in the first period to take control of the game early. Perry's goal, just as importantly, kick-started a Ducks power play that had been in a surprising 1 for 29 slump entering the contest. Koivu's tally came off a great slap-pass by Bobby Ryan, which Koivu nicely redirected to maintain what has been a heck of a run for him and his line (which includes Ryan and Big Sexy) in the last few games.

But despite the big goals, Perry was quick to give credit where it was due. "Hillsie stole the game for us, simple as that," he said. "Quality scoring chances . . . they probably had 15 to 20. He came up huge for us."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville commented on the frustration of Hiller not allowing much in the way of rebound. "He didn't give up any loose stuff around the net," Quenneville said. "He was smothering a lot of pucks, whether that was a lack of traffic or him being really Velcro-ish.

"Velcro-ish." I like that. It's a good word if you're a goalie. If a girl calls you that, you might want to rethink things.

Hiller's Velcrocity (Velcroness?) continued some hot play that has seen him post a gaudy 1.50 goals-against average and .954 save percentage int he past four games. And last night was the first time he'd won while playing the second of a back-to-back (he was 1-6-1 prior). 

It also helped the Ducks take down a juggernaut of a Hawks team that has only lost five games in regulation at the raucous United Center all season. Including the 3-0 win at Honda Center back in November, the Ducks and the Dallas Stars are the only two teams to have beaten Chicago twice in regulation this year.

Still, it was a pretty tense final five minutes after Duncan Keith was the first to get something past Hiller on a power play goal that made it 2-1 Ducks. (One friend of mine texted that she "spent the last five minutes peeking out through my fingers.")  Chicago had a handful of attempts that either missed the cage, were blocked in front or were denied by Hiller. And the Ducks finally, mercifully, put it away with 26 seconds left on a Teemu Selanne empty-netter that was the reward of some nice puck distribution between Koivu and lookalike Todd Marchant in the Chicago end. (Both showed some veteran poise by not throwing a make-or-break shot at the empty net and instead finding the open man and the easy goal.)

For Selanne, it was the second goal in as many games after coming back from that hand injury, as he also tipped one in the night before in Nashville.

By the way, to account for Selanne's return, the Ducks put George Parros on injured reserve retroactive to December 31. Parros has been suffering from a cut hand and has missed the past five games.

Prior to Saturday's Nashville game, we had a little treat for our Ducks Facebook and Twitter followers with an exclusive video message from Selanne indicating he would finally be back in the lineup with an animated, "...I'm BACK." Here was the video:

If you're not already a follower, you can join our Facebook here and our Twitter here.
You'll probably want to do just that, to follow a team that took two big ones at Nashville and Chicago, exactly one week after dropping two in those exact locales. They've won four straight for the first time this year, now sit six points out of a playoff spot, their goalie is playing his best hockey of the year and things are starting to get very interesting.

Updated January 8 at 2:56 p.m.

Today is the one-year anniversary of Bobby Ryan's stunning spin-o-rama goal that polished off a hat trick against the Kings at Staples Center. And while that goal was shown and re-shown countless times and was widely considered the goal of the year in the NHL, what he did last night may have been just as awe-inspiring.

It certainly won't make as many so-called highlight reels, but Ryan's out-of-nowhere wrist shot that tied the game in the third and paved the way to a Ducks victory over the Blues last night was nothing short of incredible. In case you missed it -- and even if you didn't -- here it is: 

To review, after knocking the puck away in the defensive zone, Ryan sprinted up the middle of the ice to receive a headman feed from linemate Saku Koivu. That left Ryan alone in the attacking zone, one-on-one with Eric Brewer with two other Blues back to defend. In a flash, Ryan dragged the puck to his right and whipped a wrist shot between Brewer's legs and past a stunned Chris Mason into the far corner of the net. (Listen as even the St. Louis play-by-play guy's voice cracks in calling a goal he never saw coming.)

What followed was a typical Ryan celebration, looking to the sky while pumping his fists, then jumping into the glass for good measure before being mobbed by linemates Koivu and Dan Sexton.

The crowd went ballistic and guys around me in the press box looked at each other with stunned expressions. Seconds later I got a text from a fellow Ducks staffer that had just one word in it:


And on the home broadcast, Johnny Ahlers said on the air, "As the kids say, that was sick."

"I had some shots earlier in the game. For me to get that one, it was a huge morale boost," Ryan said afterward. "It gives you a second wind, it really does. I thought, Let's get it through his legs and hope for the best. I never saw the puck go in. I knew where I was shooting and luckily hit it."

It was such a monster moment in that game, it almost seemed inevitable the Ducks would get another goal to take the lead. And sure enough they did when rookie Matt Beleskey chipped in a rebound off a Corey Perry shot to give the Ducks a 3-2 lead with just 2:40 left. It was Beleskey's second career goal and second game-winner in as many nights. Said Beleskey, relishing the opportunity to play wth Perry and Getzlaf for the time being, "I’m just trying to get to the net and put in some garbage basically.”

After that goal, the Ducks put the clamps on the Blues, and Todd Marchant polished it off with his third empty-net goal in the last 16 days, and this one was a beauty.

It also finished off an impressive final five minutes or so for the Ducks, who were outshot in the third period 8-1 by St. Louis with 5:54 left in the game. From that point to the final horn, Anaheim outshot the Blues 8-2. The Ducks only gave up 22 shots on net all night.

All of that led to the fifth straight win at Honda Center for the Ducks, who now need to prove they can do it on the road with yet another Saturday-Sunday double at Nashville and Chicago. 

"We looked at being 12 points out of a playoff spot and the gap was just getting bigger," Ryan said. "You don't want the team to explode, I guess, for lack of a better word. This is a group that has all the tools, has everything we need for a run, and we need to put one together."

They could do it with Teemu Selanne, who said he expects to be in there Saturday against Nashville, though there is no official word yet. He'd be a welcome addition to a Ducks power play that once was near the top of the NHL, but is mired in a 1 for 29 slump.

"We're really running out of time and the gap is just getting larger," Ryan said. "Teams are playing too well in the Western Conference, so we need to put these games together here and on the road."

More shots from Ryan like the one last night would certainly help that cause. Just as importantly, man they're fun to watch.

- - -

There is a nice, lengthy feature on Dan Sexton (and his relationship with his professional snowboarding twin brother Joe) at the relatively new ESPNLosAngeles.com website. Among the highlights is this quote from Big Sexy:

"Even three or four years ago, I'd consider myself someone who got a lot of points but wasn't someone -- even myself, I didn't think I was that good that I would make it to the next level. But each year, I kind of got better and better and I kept progressing instead of stopping, like some people do.

"I was a late bloomer. Like my dad told me, 'You probably won't be done growing till you're like 18, 19, 20.' At 19 or 20, I stopped growing upwards and I started adding muscle. Once I started doing that, I went from 145 pounds my first year of juniors to like 160. I put on 25, 30 pounds of muscle. I'm still small, but I can kind of hold my own. It got a lot easier for me, and I feel like I got a lot faster. My body just developed, and I think that was huge, because I think that was the last piece of the puzzle for me."

Updated January 7 at 3:44 p.m.

We're going Teemu-themed this afternoon, partly because of 8's injury status and partly for his performance last night during one of the Ducks Rink Tours stops at EastWest Ice Palace in Artesia.

First thing's first, and that's Selanne's injury status, which has him as "doubtful" for tonight's bout with the St. Louis Blues at Honda Center, but could play Saturday in Nashville. "I would say he's doubtful for tonight," said Randy Carlyle to reporters, while Selanne was at the same time working his tail off in extra skating time along with a handful of teammates. "Just watching him shoot the puck, he's shooting it better than he did yesterday, and hopefully if we have as much growth in these next couple of days, there is a strong possibility he'll be able to play in Nashville."

The Blues, by the way, come in here tonight with an impressive 11-4-4 record on the road, which wa 2-1 overtime loss in San Jose last night.

But back to Selanne, who was his typical self last night during a Q&A and autograph session in front of about 200 fans who came out to see him at the rink. The theme of the Q&A hosted by Ducks radio analyst Dan Wood was the Olympics, something Selanne knows a bit about since this will be his fifth trip coming up next month in Vancouver. While squeezing a green rubber ball in his left hand to strengthen it from the injury, Selanne was at once candid, charming and very funny as he reminisced about his Olympic experience in front of a captivated, often-giggling audience.

On his first Olympics, as an amateur in 1992 in Albertville, France: "I remember the first time I realized I was going to play in the first Olympics, it was huge. Any time you can play for your country is very special. Of course, the first one is the most memorable. I remember living in the Olympic Village, meeting all the athletes, watching how they do their own thing. Everything was so big. I’d played in international tournaments before, but that was just with hockey players. This was huge. But at times it got a little boring waiting between practices and games. But after we were done playing, there was great skiing."

On how he reacted to the NHL when he first got there: "When I first came into the NHL, I was barely 18. In training camp, two guys [on the same team] dropped the gloves and I thought, This league is not for me. Then they went out and had beers together. That was hard to get used to."

On playing in his fifth coming up: "All four have been unbelievable and I’m very lucky. I have one teammate back home who played in six Olympics. I’m not going to try and break that record."

On other Olympic events: "I liked to watch ski jumping because that’s really big back home, so I went to a couple of those events."

On the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan (the first one with NHL players), when he helped Team Finland to the bronze: "We beat Canada, which had Gretzky, so that made it even more great. But the travelling for that one was really tough, flying from L.A. to Tokyo 12 hours and then six hours by bus to Nagano. I remember it was really tough mentally and physically because there wasn’t a lot of time during the Olympic break before and after the games. But it was well worth it."

On winning the silver in 2006 in Torino, Italy: "It was quite tough losing in the final game, especially because we lost to Sweden (laughs). We always joke about that – you can lose here and there, but you can’t lose to Sweden. That was very disappointing. But it was such a great accomplishment to win the silver. It you had told me before the tournament that you guys will win the silver medal, we’d have taken that right away."

On the difference between the NHL and the Olympics: "It’s very different because the prep time is so short. This time we play Sunday in Edmonton and I think the first Olympic game is Wednesday. In the Olympics, whoever is the hottest team over those 12 or 13 days is going to win. In the NHL, you can lose here and there you can still make the playoffs and still win the Stanley Cup. And you play against your teammates, and you always want to beat the team your teammates are on. That’s especially true this year when we play against Getzlaf and Perry. It will be tough to hear that yapping the whole season if we lose to them."

After that comment, the host interjected.

Wood: "Perry doesn’t say much, does he?"
Selanne: "Well, not in front of you guys."

The Q&A was then opened up to the audience, and one fan asked if Teemu had any advice for Bobby Ryan, playing in his first Olympics. "I’m not gonna tell him nothin’," he said with a smile. He then offered this: "You’ll want to go out, hang around downtown Vancouver, see the other events. But you’ve got to get your rest. The recovery time is so short, you’ve got to do things right. "

And there were a few more from the audience:

Why do you like hockey?: “I started because my older brother and his friends played. I play for the passion of the game and the fun.”

Who’s better, you or Saku Koivu?: “Some people like oranges, some like apples.”

And finally ...

Can you please not retire?: “I was supposed to retire five years ago, and it keeps going one more year, one more year. It’s got to end somewhere.”

It was after the Q&A that Selanne really impressed. Seemingly every last member of that crowd of 200 got in a line that snaked around the room. All of them wanted an autograph, to pose for a picture, have a short conversation or do all of the above. And throughout the two hours he sat on that stool, Selanne treated each one of them like they were the only people there -- chatting them up, laughing, waiting patiently when the camera didn't snap right away.

Dan Wood was standing next to me watching this, and he put it perfectly when he said, "Look at each person after they walk away from him. Every one of them is smiling."

Dan also told me about an interview he did with Selanne years ago in which he asked him how he manages to be so good with fans. "I just like people," he said simply.

I've always thought the best compliment you could give a superstar athlete or celebrity was that they "get it." Meaning, they understand just how much it means to every last fan, every last media member, every last average Joe who crosses their path. And they treat them accordingly. 

And Teemu Selanne gets it.

To the guy who asked, "Can you please not retire?" I think I know where you're coming from.

Updated January 6 at 1:24 p.m.

I don't care if they're banged up. Don't care if they're in a surprising ninth in the West. There is always something special about beating the Red Wings.

And if the way the Ducks played in a 4-1 triumph last night at Honda Center is a glimpse into their future, the second half of this season is going to be pretty damn fun.

The Ducks controlled the game from start to finish, getting early scoring, phenomenal goaltending from Jonas Hiller and some timely insurance in one of the more solidly played games of their season.

We didn't know how the Ducks would come out after a winless three-game road trip and a grind that has seen them play five games in the last eight days. But they went up relatively early on goals by two guys who have scored a combined 201 goals in their careers. That would be 200 by Saku Koivu and 1 for rookie Matt Beleskey. (At right is what women would call, "a cute picture.")

Koivu struck with the Ducks shorthanded 5:37 into the game, on a breakaway try that initially appeared to be stoned by goalie Jimmy Howard. But after the initial save, Koivu was able to dig the puck out and deposit it netbound. 

"We were looking for a good start," Koivu said, "and when we get that, we’re a lot tougher to beat."

I like this comment from Randy Carlyle on that early shorthander: "That is the inspiration that you hope goes through your hockey club. You could feel it on the bench from our players. They were very supportive and it was very vocal at that point. It’s a great start for your group, especially playing the Detroit Red Wings. Usually on the power play they are pretty dynamic and can create a lot. Koivu’s will out-did some of their skill in a couple of situations early and gave us a jumpstart."

That start got even better when Beleskey was rewarded for his all-night hard work with the first of his career a couple minutes after Koivu's strike. Just seconds prior, Beleskey was denied on a spinning backhand by a couple of sliding Wings defenders with Howard way out of his crease. But he finally got one through when he banged in a rebound off a Sheldon Brookbank shot that hit off the end boards.

"It took awhile, but it’s nice to get it off my back," said Beleskey, who was playing in his 24th career game (including two last year). Playing with Corey and Getz, they are pretty good guys to play with if you want to score a goal."

Yes, indeed that's true.

Funnily enough, Beleskey called the 24-game wait for a goal, "Probably the longest drought of my life."

That early 2-0 Ducks lead maintained halfway through the third period before the hard-to-spell Valtteri Filpulla backhanded a goal home with Tomas Holmstrom's rear end all up in Jonas Hiller's mug. But that was the only damage done in Hiller during a brilliant night in which he made 38 stops, including a couple of beauties like this desperation kick save on former Duck (as if you didn't know) Todd Bertuzzi. That left Bertuzzi noticeably frustrated (if you can read lips in the video) and wasn't the only aggression he showed on the night, stepping in to fight Bobby Ryan who had been jawing with Brett Lebda about a minute prior.

I wrote this during the game last night, but it bears repeating. A little more than 27 months ago, Ryan and Bertuzzi are hugging after Ryan's first career goal, scored against the Kings in London. Now they're fighting like bitter enemies. Seriously, how do you not love this game?

That wasn't the only sparring on the night, as Troy Bodie got into it with Doug Janik late in the first and Sheldon Brookbank tangled with former Duck Brad May early in the second, a very brief fight that nevertheless earned them each double-minors for roughing.

(I was able to very quickly say hello to May Day after the game and tell him how tough it was to see him in that red and white jersey. He seemed pretty sympathetic. Great photo of Brad and his fans from warmups last night, by the way.)

Back to the game, the Ducks were able to fight off the scare from the Filpulla goal with a Corey Perry tally that was timely in a couple of ways. First it came just about 2 1/2 minutes after the Wings had clawed to within a goal, and second, it was the first for Perry in the last six games and just his second in the last 13. Probably not coincidentally, it came in his buddy Ryan Getzlaf's first game back after missing four with that leg laceration, and it was set up by a nice little tap feed by Getzlaf.

Just as eye-catching was the empty-netter by Kyle Chipchura with 7.8 seconds left, as he sent it down the ice from the bottom of his own circle, and it took a nice change-of-direction bounce just inside the post. 

That slammed the door on a very satisfying win against a team most Ducks fans would say they like to beat the most. The official game-winner went to the 21-year-old Beleskey, who was speaking of that goal, but could have been talking about the future of the Ducks' season in the wake of that impressive performance. 

"Hopefully," he said, "there’s more to come.”

Updated January 5 at 1:43 p.m.

What better way to start the final 40 of the season than a home tussle with the most bitter of Ducks rivals? 

Game No. 43 comes against the Detroit Red Wings, their first visit to Honda Center since the Ducks defeated them in Game 6 of last year's Western Conference Semifinals, only to fall in Game 7 back in Detroit.

And while it's a different Red Wings team than we last saw here (riddled with injuries and ninth in the conference standings), it's a different Ducks team than the one that battled Detroit to the brink last spring.

Anaheim is 16-19-7 at just past the halfway point, 13th in the West, a predicament covered in detail in Eric Stephens' midseason report in the O.C. Register (a piece from which I will now gladly steal material). 

Captain Scott Niedermayer, commenting on the team's first-half fortunes: "At the start of the year, with the way the season ended and the way we had a good push in the playoffs, we expected better. But that's not where we are now. That's a long time ago. We understand where we're at. Hopefully we can find answers."

Looking ahead, the Ducks are banking on the fact that post-lockout they have traditionally been strong in the second 41 of the regular season. (Not to mention, a pretty damn good playoff team after that point.) Take a look at the Ducks' second halves the past four seasons:

2005-06: 25-11-5
2006-07: 20-13-8 (not to mention, 16-5 in the postseason)
2007-08: 28-10-3
2008-09: 21-18-2 (including 10-2-1 finish)

"I don't know why but it has been a second-half team," said Bob Murray, deciding to send a little message with the rest of the quote. "If I'm a young guy there and I'm getting my opportunity, I'm going to try to work my rear end off to make sure I'm part of that group that goes on that run when it happens."

And while the Ducks badly need a turnaround immediately, Niedermayer maintains that there were a few points in the first half they thought that was already coming. "The hard part is we've kind of had three or four stretches where we think we've turned a corner or are turning a corner," he said. "And it hasn't happened. That is tough. It's frustrating, I guess. But we've got to keep working at it. We're only halfway through.

"There's still lots of hockey to play, you know. We've got to believe that the next stretch we put together, we can continue to build on it and not just turn the other way after a handful of games."

It's eye-rolling to throw the "one game at a time" cliche out there, but it certainly applies with this one tonight against the Red Wings. Ducks fans aren't going to shed a tear over this, but the Wings probably have had it worse than Anaheim as far as injuries go this season. They will, however, get back Henrik Zetterberg from a left shoulder separation and Dan Cleary (last year's Duck killer in Game 7) later this week -- but not tonight. Brad May, who has been day to day with a lower body injury, will be in the lineup. That's good for Wings fans, but bad for Ducks fans, who are going to have to deal with the retina-burning image of seeing May closeup in that red uniform.

That's the Detroit situation, but what we really care about is Anaheim's injury status -- namely that of Ryan Getzlaf -- and there appears to be some good news there. Getzlaf centered the top line during the skate this morning at Honda Center and appeared to be moving fine after missing the last four games with a laceration above the knee.

“It’s a non-issue at this point,” Getzlaf said about the cut. And while he said there is some pain, he added, “It’s definitely at that point where I can tolerate it. My knee’s not giving out and stuff. We’ll see how the day progresses and how it kind of reacts this afternoon and go from there.”

Randy Carlyle, meanwhile, wouldn't show his hand, and offered a "from-a-standpoint"-full comment, "I haven’t actually talked to the trainers but he looked fine on the ice this morning from a standpoint where he was moving okay. He skated yesterday and he was fine. It’s not like he hasn’t been skating. He just hasn’t skated, I would say, a full practice from the standpoint of participating.”

Getzlaf or no Getzlaf, it's Anaheim-Detroit at Honda Center tonight. And I can't think of a better way to kick off what hopes to be (what has to be) a better Ducks second half.

Updated January 4 at 11:48 a.m.

Injuries happen to every NHL team -- seemingly more so than ever this year -- and no team is about to use them as an excuse. But when you're missing three of your top-scoring forwards, it makes an impact. When one of those forwards is Ryan Getzlaf, it makes a bigger impact.

And that showed over a three-game road trip in which the Ducks lost at Dallas, Nashville and Chicago while only averaging two goals a game in that stretch. It was in last night's game, a 5-2 loss in Chicago in the second of a back-to-back, that the Ducks could have used some of the offense they're missing. Anaheim hung with a very good Blackhawks team for the first half of the game, losing out on a couple of big chances on posts, missed open nets and some big saves by super-backup Antii Niemi. But when the Blackhawks started to pull away in the middle session, the Ducks didn't have enough to claw back. They only managed three shots in the third period, two of them were Petteri Nokelainen goals within 1:19 of each other. By then, it was much too late as the Blackhawks won their third in a row (12th in their last 15) and tied the Sharks for the top spot in the NHL standings.

The Ducks especially missed those scorers -- notably Getzlaf and Selanne -- on the power play, where Anaheim still remains seventh in the league despite going 1 for their last 20.

"You look at the guys we have out, obviously they're huge parts of our team and they put up a lot of points for us," said Corey Perry, who is in a little bit of a scoring slump in the past few games. "When guys are out though, some guys have to step up. Other guys have to fill that role. It happens on every team every year. Different guys step up. That's what we need."

They didn't get enough of it over the New Year's weekend and the question now turns to, When will those guys be back? Obviously for Lupul, it's not for a couple of months. But signs point to Getzlaf and Selanne returning this week, possibly in the Tuesday or Thursday home games against Detroit and St. Louis. We'll know more when Randy Carlyle talks to the media following off-ice workouts held this afternoon at Honda Center.

Getzlaf, who has missed the last three games with a leg laceration, didn't skate over the weekend and told reporters on Saturday morning that "A lot of the swelling has gone, and that enables the joint in the knee to move more freely. That helps with the pain and that stuff. We're moving in the right direction, but it wasn't quite there yet. There was no pont in skating and irritating it even more.

"The cut is healing nice, so that part more or less isn't a concern. I didn't cut the muscle. It was just irritated and started to shut down on me."

Selanne hasn't played since suffering a broken bone in his hand on Dec. 3 at Dallas. Like Getzlaf, he joined the Ducks on the road trip and told the O.C. Register, “I’m excited more every day the closer it gets to coming back. On the other hand, you’ve got to be smart. I just got the screw out so until next Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ve got to still be quite patient. But after that, it should be ready.”

Selanne skated with the team during the trip because he preferred the tempo to skating on his own. “That’s the main thing, keep all the skating muscles activated," he said. "The back, groin and legs are strong. And then when I get the green light, I can pretty much play the next day as long as I have the strength and the mobility.”

- - -

One of the positives for the Ducks over the New Year's weekend was the selection of Bobby Ryan to the USA Olympic team, which was released to the public during a ceremony following the very-cool-again Winter Classic. (Even though I was relatively certain Ryan would be picked, it still was a little nerve-wracking after they revealed several USA forwards and his name still hadn't been called yet.) 

Ryan, however, didn't have to go through that agony, as he got the call from Team USA GM Brian Burke earlier that morning. He told our own Dan Wood that he was asleep when his phone buzzed. “My initial reaction wasn’t anything more than, ‘You couldn’t wait another hour?’” Ryan said. “We were supposed to sleep in today, and he caught me off guard.”

Of course, the good news made that wakeup call much easier to take. “I was definitely unable to go back to sleep after that,” Ryan said. “I was excited and a little revved up. There certainly could have been worse ways to wake up.”
A piece by Chuck Gormley of the Courier-Post in South New Jersey (Ryan's hometown) details how Brian Burke was roaming around Fenway Park before the Winter Classic trying to find a cell signal to call Bobby. 

"Bobby?" Gormley reported Burke saying, "On behalf of USA Hockey, we would be honored to have you wear the Stars and Stripes at the Olympics next month."

He told Ryan to keep the news to himself until the official announcement was made, so he had to keep it from his teammates at the rink during the Friday afternoon practice.

"I knew all day at the rink but I wasn't really allowed to tell people," Ryan told the O.C. Register. "I was able to tell my folks but Burkie wanted to make sure that their announcement stood and that people would find out live. I kind of had to keep my emotions in all day."

It's crazy when you think about the fact that just about 14 months ago, Burke was informing Ryan that the Ducks were sending him to the minors.

"I don't think Burkie was looking at me as a player that played for him in the past," Ryan said. "I've been up and down with him quite a bit. I probably took a little longer than he wanted to pan out. But I think at the end of the day, it all worked out for the best."

Yeah, I think so too.

(By the way, in case you're interested in such things, just found out from Bobby that he'll wear number 54 in the Team USA sweater.)

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You may recall a little while ago that I asked Ducks fans to get involved in PickMyNHLTeam.com, in which new hockey fan John T. Meyer asked fans to give him an NHL team to root for. Fans were encouraged to recommend their team by writing guest blogs, making comments on his blog, retweeting on Twitter and posting comments on Facebook and YouTube. The promotion ended December 31 and the Ducks won in a landslide over the second-place Oilers.

Meyer posted a video announcing the Ducks as winners while ironically standing in the snow in his hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He's planning a "Tweetup" with fellow Ducks fans and Twitter followers at a game within in the next month. (More info on that to come.)

Congrats, Ducks fans, for making the push to make this happen. First three starters in last year's All-Star Game and now this. Well done.

December Archive