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Mighty Ducks '95-'96 : Mighty Ducks' Power Play Is Lightning Rod for Criticism : Hockey: Despite roster moves and trades, the team has struggled with the man-advantage.

October 09, 1995|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — The Mighty Ducks have tinkered, practiced, tinkered some more, practiced some more and still been pathetic on the power play.

They made a big trade that didn't pan out, benched the player they hoped would help and still were terrible.

So what do Coach Ron Wilson and assistants Tim Army and Al Sims do now?

"Al, Tim and I are going to play," Wilson said, cracking a smile. "It's a novel concept."

Sorry, fellas, but that's not going to work either.

Witty banter aside, improving a power play that has ranked last in the NHL each of the past two seasons seems to be the biggest challenge facing the Ducks as they begin their third season.

Most preseason league previews make it clear the Ducks must improve their power play or they're destined for trouble.

Under the category "most pressing need," The Hockey News Yearbook wrote:

" . . . someone to quarterback the power play."

There is little disagreement in the Duck camp.

"I think we've got to improve our special teams," captain Randy Ladouceur said. "Twenty-sixth [last] isn't going to get you any place."

Last season, the Ducks scored on 23 of 202 power-play chances (11.4%). The league average was a 17.7% conversion rate.

"We figured out that it would have taken us 13 more goals to get to the league average," Wilson said.

Two seasons ago, they scored on 54 of 376 chances (14.4%). The league average was 18.6%.

In 132 games spanning two seasons, the Ducks have converted 77 of 578 (13.3%) power-play opportunities.

The Ducks were in the running for a playoff berth until the final week of the 1995 season, and a more efficient power play would have almost certainly helped them get there.

To make matters worse, they also finished last with a 75.6% rate of successfully killing penalties, well below the league average of 82.3%.

After the 1993-94 season, the team addressed its weakness on the power play by sending veteran Troy Loney to the New York Islanders for power-play specialist Tom Kurvers. Kurvers, a defenseman, had 31 points on the Islander power play the season before and the Ducks hoped the problem was solved.

Quickly, they learned otherwise. Kurvers was a bust. Soon, it was clear he was no longer in the Ducks' plans and he spent most of the late-season games watching from the press box.

The Ducks then traded for defensemen Milos Holan and Jason York and turned to rookie defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky in hopes they could accomplish what Kurvers, now playing in Japan, could not.

Didn't work.

"We don't have a dominant defenseman," Wilson said. "Or a big forward up front. Look at the Boston Bruins. They have one of the best power plays and they have Ray Bourque at one of the points and Cam Neely up front.

"Maybe we'll be there one day with [rookie forward] Chad Kilger and Oleg Tverdovsky."

Certainly, the Ducks figure to make do with Kilger, their top draft pick, and Tverdovsky, a second-year player.

It's a good place to start.

Kilger showed in the exhibition season that he's a physical presence, perfectly willing to position himself in front of the net and dish out punishment as well as take it.

That was Loney's job description in his one season with the Ducks. Last season, Wilson had no one to fill that role.

Tverdovsky showed flashes of speed, touches of genius, but was occasionally awe-struck by playing against such stars as Wayne Gretzky and Pavel Bure last season.

Holan added some desperately needed control along the blue line after his March 8 trade from Philadelphia.

Dumping unproductive players such as aging veteran Anatoli Semenov, who went to Philadelphia in the Holan deal, and lead-footed pugilist Stu Grimson (to Detroit for York and forward Mike Sillinger), also helped.

Plus, Wilson said he worked on specific game plans right from the start of training camp.

That's a switch from the first two camps. In the inaugural camp, Wilson simply wanted to remember everybody's name. Last season, the impending lockout hung over camp like a black cloud. When the lockout ended, there simply wasn't adequate time to get everybody back in shape and install a shrewd plan for the power play.

Now, Wilson wants to concentrate on something called "situational power-play performance."

"Say you lose, 6-2, go 0 for 6 on the power play," he said. "If you score two or three power-play goals, you have a better percentage, but you still lose. I want to focus on opportunities in key situations where you're a goal up or a goal down or tied.

"Look at a team like the New Jersey Devils, who barely beat us in power-play percentage [13.4% to 11.4%], but they were able to score when it mattered in the playoffs."

The Devils went on to win their first Stanley Cup.

The Ducks finished with the league's third-worst record.

Enough said.

Times staff writer Robyn Norwood contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Power Failure

The Mighty Ducks ranked last in the NHL in converting power-play opportunities in 1994-95. Here are the most and least proficient teams:

THE LEADERS *--*

Adv. G Pct. 1. Chicago 212 52 24.5 2. Detroit 215 52 24.2 3. Quebec 186 45 24.2

*--*

THE TRAILERS *--*

Adv. G Pct. 24. Florida 222 29 13.1 25. San Jose 203 24 11.8 26. Mighty Ducks 202 23 11.4

*--*

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