This is Anaheim Calling to the Hockey World.
The Ducks are playing as well as they have at any other point this season, meaning they've won 2 of their last 3 games. The victories were marked by something we haven't seen from the Ducks this year, resilience. Both times the Ducks surrendered leads but found a way to come back and win, once with an overtime goal from captain Scott Niedermayer and once with some spectacular shootout work by J.S. Giguere.
The Ducks next game is against the much maligned Carolina Hurricanes, meaning that the chance for the team to improve on this homestand is possible, but not guaranteed. Games still remain against a surging Blackhaws squad and tough Phoenix and L.A. teams. Arthur, given the difficulty of the teams we've been facing on this homestand, if the Ducks pull out two more victories to be above .500 on the homestand, is it safe to say that they have turned a corner and will climb out of the Western Conference cellar?
No. It's not safe to say that. It's not even safe to call this "resilience." Bookending a loss by dropping a three-goal lead and giving up a game-tying goal with 0:18 seconds left in regulation is not turning a corner, nor is it finding a way to win. What we've seen in this homestand is a team trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and the Ducks were lucky that a tired Sharks team was the only one willing to comply with that gameplan..
I'm going to keep Jim Mora-ing (Playoffs?!?) attempts to talk about the Ducks turning a corner as long as this team continues to spend the second half of every game trying to give away at least one point. To talk playoffs, they have to be on pace for 36 wins in the next 60 games while facing a 2 to 1 ratio (10 to 5) of road games to home games in the month of December. They're not there yet. Have they turned the corner from embarrassing themselves? Sure, but that's an intersection they've found themselves at quite often this year, and I can't exactly get excited about a team that will spend the season playing well enough to never be in either the playoff picture or the Top 5 Draft pick discussion.
I did see encouraging things on Monday night. The Ducks have successfully adopted a more high-risk offense, and I applaud Randy Carlyle for not trying to neutral-zone-trap his way out of the unemployment line. Also, every line seems to be playing well in the new system, even (or maybe especially) without Joffrey Lupul. But to be successful in the long term, the 36 wins in 60 games long term, a high-risk offense requires things that this Ducks team has already proven it lacks, namely the ability to make the smart defensive play while the game is wide open and the presence of a competent last-man-back in every blueline pairing. I just don't think this squad can turn the last 60 games into a track meet and hope to win 36 of them, not without trading for more long-distance runners.
I agree that the Ducks haven't fully turned the corner, but it's safe to say that they've stuck their heads out to see what's on the other side. For three games now, the Ducks' attack has looked more vicious. They are tenacious on the forecheck and better at clearing pucks on D. I admit that consistency is lacking, but I've seen an improvement, considering not too long ago the Ducks couldn't execute a breakout pass.
More importantly, the offensive chances are going up as well. That second line of R2-Saku-Selanne is a little frightening. They haven't gotten the goals just yet, but they are generating the kinds of chances that mean less pressure on the top line. I'm convinced it's only a matter of time before they start putting up some numbers, allowing Lupul to take up a permanent home on a third line with Marchant and Christensen-- I refuse to acknowledge Calder as a Duck until someone tells me what Christensen did wrong on the last road trip.
My second cause for encouragement has been the recent play of Giguere. I know he doesn't have a lot of wins and the numbers aren't very encouraging, but I think he's looking a little like his old self. He hasn't been giving up a lot of soft goals. I mean, let's be real, the only thing he could have done on the Glencross goal was be taller. And Iginla can't be allowed to shoot from the faceoff dot. I think Jiggy looks like he could steal a couple games for us . . . then again, I'm an optimistic fan sometimes.
Finally, I think it's a little encouraging that we've been giving up these leads, mostly because it means we have leads to give up. We are getting out in front and carrying the play, something we were not doing for long stretches this season. I've been saying as much as anyone that we need a stay-at-home defenseman who can play a strong shutdown role, and I think the acquisition of a player with that attitude will help us finish games. It will also give Niedermayer some much needed relief. In a little while, we will remember how to close out games, and when that happens, we'll be a major threat to the rest of the league.