Anaheim pushed itself out of the Western Conference basement in recent weeks, and many have pointed to their improved standings position and the general tightness of the playoff race as reasons that Ducks fans should hold on hope.
But for those actually watching the games, five straight periods of atrocious play, beginning last Wednesday and ending in the 3rd period on Saturday, have been less than encouraging benchmarks of the Ducks improvement.
Daniel, putting your own optimism and homerism aside, can THIS roster and THIS coaching staff make the playoffs this year?
Well played, Arthur. It's true that my time in the midwest has turned me into a bit of a homer. However, no amount of homerism can get me to believe that this roster and this coaching staff can make it to the playoffs without a little help. The scoring is too inconsistent, the defense is too inconsistent, the goal keeping is too inconsistent and the coach can't decide what he should do with his lines or pairings in order to GET consistency. Despite constant depth chart juggling, Carlyle hasn't been able to squeeze consistent production out of the top line since Lupul went down.
The Ducks are taking one step back for every one step forward, a marked improvement from the one step forward and two steps back approach they employed earlier this year, but they would need a 10-1-2 steak just to get back into the playoff picture, then another one to secure their spot in the postseason. That can't happen when the team's most dangerous scoring threat is Big Sexy. Carter is coming back, but Getzlaf might be out for a couple games, further depleting the offensive corps. Selanne probably won't get into the lineup until the Ducks have 46 games played, and I can't see them winning the 30 of 40 games it will take to get to the postseason, not with such an inconsistent offense.
The defense is just as bad. Anaheim has only one consistent pair of defenders: Whitney and Brookbank. Niedermayer is having trouble trusting whomever plays with him, and the third pairing is made up of leftovers who don't know what their role is. Wisniewski needs a partner who will stay at home, so he can feel free to make those ridiculous mistakes. I still think that is the most pressing need for the Ducks, the trade which gives them the greatest chances of making the playoffs. Last year, Pronger and Niedermayer could do whatever they wanted, and their partners had their back. This year, the lack of a solid second pairing and the overuse of Scotty has made for too many defensive mistakes that the offense and goalies can't cover. Murray needs to get help for his patchwork blueline if the Ducks are going to crawl back into this, because as it stands now, the Ducks don't have the offense or goaltending to stay in the playoff hunt.
I agree that this grouping can't cut it, not without a lot of help from the rest of the Conference. People will point to the close race in the standings, but points aren't worth as much this year, not with the number of three point games being played on a nightly basis. There is every reason to believe that teams will stay where they are currently seeded. And even if the West imploded, it would have to do so mostly in inter-conference play for the Ducks to benefit.
I don't know if the Ducks are just one trade away from turning things around, but I know that Murray won't trade for a defenseman. If you look at the rumors this year, he hasn't even inquired about a defenseman. He seems to believe that what we have should pass muster. And I see that as a great disconnect between Carlyle and Murray, two former defensemen.
What we've seen on the ice this year is the greatest example of the Parcells adage, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." Carlyle maybe had it easy with Burke. He was getting Iron Chef quality ingredients and a somewhat generous time limit. But Murray's got the coach on Top Chef, making a gourmet meal out of vending machine food in a 15 minute quick fire. He doesn't know what's going wrong out there, and thus, can't make the adjustments necessary to fix it. He couldn't write off the Phoenix game as a bad night; he has seen too many of those spiral out of control this season. So he shakes things up against the Sharks and gets the same result. Murray has made a Stanley Cup caliber coach look silly this season, and that has to stop.
Murph has to give Carlyle a say in adding the final pieces or just let the coach go. In fact, if Murray's so sure of the team he's put together, then he should step behind the bench himself. Of course, he's never coached, and in my cooking analogy would be the equivalent of the pimple faced adolescent who mans the sour cream gun in the Taco Bell assembly line, but that begs the question, why then is he still running the show here?