Ducks will be scrutinized -- for the wrong reasons
The vultures are circling, even though the Ducks’ carcass is still breathing.
Fifteen NHL scouts were given credentials for their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday at the Honda Center, a sure sign the last-place Ducks are considering personnel moves or already have some changes in the works.
Scouts often time their visits to Southern California for when the weather in Canada is coldest or when the Ducks and Kings have several home games within a few days. But 15 scouts is a lot to have at a game so soon before the March 3 trading deadline, and it’s likely the Ducks will look different by the time they end the seven-game homestand that starts tonight.
No doubt those scouts took General Manager Bob Murray at his word when he told The Times last week, “There's going to be a lot of players going through the turnstiles going out the door before coaches go out the door here. And our players better get that through their thick skulls.”
An 0-3-1 trip that ended with a mindlessly abominable game at Pittsburgh apparently was enough reason for Murray to make at least some of those players available as he tries to keep his team from falling out of the playoff chase. The Ducks entered Thursday’s game nine points out of eighth in the West, though they have two games in hand on Phoenix.
Centers Saku Koivu and Ryan Carter were described as doubtful for the game, Koivu because of a groin strain and Carter because of a bruised foot. Center MacGregor Sharp, called up from Bakersfield of the ECHL, was scheduled to make his NHL debut.
Asked if he felt exasperated, angry, or frustrated, Coach Randy Carlyle chose all of the above — and added a word of his own.
“I think embarrassment is probably one of the words that comes to mind when you go through stretches which we were going through,” Carlyle said. “We’ve talked about it. We’ve reviewed it. We’ve tried different methods to stimulate. And right now the No. 1 thing that’s most evident is that our work ethic is not where it needs to be.”
After reviewing the Columbus, Detroit and Pittsburgh games from that last trip, he said players weren’t moving their feet and got caught spending too much time in their defensive zone. He said skating and mustering a strong enough work ethic to separate themselves from rivals was of paramount importance, “and we didn’t demonstrate that consistently in the games.”
He said he hasn’t yelled that much, “but I think it’s coming.”
Carlyle also acknowledged he has heard rumors about his job being in jeopardy. Even though Murray gave him a vote of confidence he knows the coaching staff could suffer the consequences if the team’s struggles continue.
“You understand that in pro sports there’s certain things that do happen and we’re responsible as a coaching staff to stimulate and to give direction to the players,” Carlyle said, “and how we deliver the message has to change or it has to stimulate or it has to get these players playing to a higher level.
“Then there’s a decision that’s made. Is it the coaching staff’s problem or is it that players aren’t listening? Are they tuning this guy out, tuning that guy out? And then management has a decision. Bob Murray holds us accountable every day. And has right from Day One, as Brian Burke did, and we have to accept the responsibility to get the team to play better.
“My goal as a coach is to prepare the group to the best possible level and then get more out of them. More than what we’ve gotten so far. And that’s always the issue. Coaches are never satisfied.”
Defenseman James Wisniewski said the Ducks “right now are a little timid. A lot of us are playing not to lose instead of playing to win.” The homestand, he said, must be approached not as a seven-game block but as many 10-minute or 20-minute segments in which the Ducks must regain their confidence and assert themselves.
“You go out and play the hardest 10 minutes you can and the last 10 minutes you play hard and just keep carrying it over and carrying it over,” Wisniewski said.
“Look at our schedule: We play every other day for three weeks and then you mix in a couple of back-to-back games so there’s really no time to think. Maybe this might be a blessing in disguise to play as much hockey as we can and play right through it.”
Two more notes: Recent hockey Hall of Fame inductee Steve Yzerman, executive director of Canada’s Olympic hockey team for the Vancouver Games, and associate Team Canada director Kevin Lowe are scheduled to be at the game to look at prospective Olympians. Ducks winger Corey Perry (13 goals, 24 points) has helped his cause immensely with a great start, and the Team Canada brass likely will take a long look at him. Yzerman and Lowe might also be looking to see if center Ryan Getzlaf has fully recovered from the hernia surgery that slowed him the first month of the season.
Also, the Ducks lent center Erik Christensen to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League for conditioning purposes. He can stay there for up to 14 days.
More later at www.latimes.com/sports