When last we met, Teemu Selanne was on the sidelines and the Ducks
were heading home. And whether it was the vittles grilled up by
wives, girlfriends or favorite local eateries, home cooking
certainly lit a fire under the Ducks.
The gritty, boring 2-1 road win over San Jose -- achieved once again
without Selanne, who was home resting his gimpy thigh -- sent
Anaheim back to The Pond with a better taste in their mouths than
the rest of their disastrous trip (1-4-1) would have. Which was
good, considering the six-game home stand provided an opportunity
to forget about their stay in the wasted-days inns of the roadie.
And forget they did.
In truth, Selanne wasn't just resting; he was undergoing two days of
intense physical therapy that he felt transformed him from a
skating "cow" back into "a stallion." Whatever, he's been scoring
like a stud ever since.
After being reunited with his top-line mates (Steve Rucchin and Paul
Kariya) for the tilt against Vancouver, all three began a gradual
climb to the heights of play to which Anaheim fans have become
accustomed over the past few seasons. During the home stand, in which
the Ducks went 3-1-2, the trio accounted for nine goals (six by
Selanne) and 16 assists (10 by Kariya).
Guy Hebert -- ever the backbone of this team -- also continued to
shine, with one exception (see below). Gebo was on the verge of
racking up three straight shutouts when former Duck Denny Lambert
scored with four minutes remaining in the 6-1 win over Nashville.
Coming off whitewashes of Washington and LA, Hebert nonetheless
established a new personal-best scoreless streak of 191 minutes 47
seconds. The Caps/Kings combo also represented the first career
consecutive shutouts for the pride of Troy, NY.
Beyond the re-emergence of the Finnish Flash & Friends, the home
stand provided a broad spectrum of ups and downs. The team blew a
pair of two-goal leads in letting Vancouver salvage a tie; avenged
their season-opening 1-0 loss to former coach Ron Wilson's
currently god-awful Capitals with a 1-0 triumph of their own; faced
the Kings, with captain Rob Blake under suspension, and played a
game that was actually entertaining, as opposed to the slugfest
that usually results when cross-town worlds collide; demolished
hapless Nashville; and engaged in a war on (fists) and off (words)
the ice with hothead Mike Milbury and his New York Islanders.
Then came the home-and-home with Colorado, a series that looked to
be a character-shaper for the hot-and-cold Ducks. The games taking
place on consecutive nights were pivotal pre-holiday tilts for both
teams. Colorado had come in a game below .500, missing Joe Sakic,
and winless in four straight; the Ducks, a game above .500 and
looking to assert themselves against one of the league's premier
teams. As it turned out, the familiar patterns of late would amount
to nothing, as the visitors won both halves.
Game one, a fight-filled battle at The Pond, uncharacteristically
saw Patrick Roy and Guy Hebert both surrender soft goals. But
Hebert gave up two, and the second -- coming after the Ducks had
peppered Roy for several minutes -- was a back-breaker. For his
part, Roy was roving more than Bill Clinton's eye, and perhaps the
President is a good comparison to make for Patty: Both men are
extremely good at their jobs, but their self-destructive personal
behavior is hard to understand. Having given up a bad opening goal
and trailing 2-1 midway through the game, Roy got his stick up on
Paul Kariya. When called by referee Mick McGeough, he threw a hissy
fit and had two more tacked on. But the Comeback Kid held tough,
and when Anaheim couldn't score on the extended power play, the
momentum had shifted for good.
ROY-DNEY AND THE DOMINATOR
Forget Clinton, call him ROY-dney Dangerfield: With the score tied
2-2 and the Avs on a two-man advantage, Colorado coach Bob Hartley
pulled Roy as a delay tactic to rest his players. Craig Billington
came on, played 1:52, faced no shots...and got the win because the
Avs notched the winning goal while he was in net. Talk about no
The rare poor performance by Hebert -- who nonetheless made many
good saves along the way -- gave Craig Hartsburg the opening he
needed to rest his ace and give backup Dominic Roussel a whirl.
After not having played in over a month, Roussel dominated the Avs
as thoroughly as they dominated the Ducks. He made 45 saves,
several spectacular, in a 1-0 shutout that was his first NHL win
since, get this, March 22, 1996.
And the goal that made the difference? It was Jeff Nielsen's first
of the year, came courtesy of a blind clearing pass from Roy to,
well, to Nielsen. Again, the roaming Roy did himself in as the
Ducks winger fired into the unguarded net.
Given that game two also had its share of fractious behavior by both
teams, I'd pay to see the return of this road show, which -- thanks
to the schedule-maker -- will put on a repeat performance with a
home-and-home on consecutive nights in late January, the only other
times these teams will meet in the regular season.
FEAST OR FAMINE
The game at Colorado was the first of six on the road for Anaheim.
So far, it's been feast or famine with this team: They win at home
and lose on the road. On paper, this trip looks a hair tougher than
the last one, what with Cujo and the real Dominator standing in the
way of at least two wins. But, hey, they already got over on Roy,
so who's to say what's possible with this bunch?