The Mighty Ducks' best right wing and center returned to the ice Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes. But why was their top goaltender sitting on the bench to start the game?
Guy Hebert, still wearing a coat of Olympic rust, started instead of Mikhail Shtalenkov, who won a silver medal in Nagano, and the Ducks paid the price with a two-goal deficit 2 minutes 56 seconds into the game.
Teemu Selanne and Travis Green, sluggish after missing five games because of injuries, could not rally the Ducks and they lost to the Hurricanes, 3-1, before an announced sellout of 17,174 at the Arrowhead Pond.
At game's end, there seemed little question the Ducks will have the sharper of their goalies in the net tonight against the Kings. Hebert aggravated an injury to his right shoulder and was forced from the game after the second period.
"It's not anything serious, but it was too close of a game to take a chance on making a bad error," said Hebert, who did not play for Team USA at the Olympics and has struggled since returning from Japan.
Perhaps the only error Sunday was playing Hebert in the first place, and blame for that must go to Coach Pierre Page.
Page blamed his defensemen for quick goals by Carolina's Keith Primeau and Martin Gelinas. But the fact is, the Ducks needed a couple of big saves and didn't get them.
Carolina fired two shots and got two goals.
"First goal, Primeau did a good job with the puck, but that's one you'd like to have back," Hebert said. "The other one was something I do 100 times a day in practice with [goalie consultant] Francois Allaire. It slithered between my armpit and my body. That goal goes in one of 100 times.
"But as the cloud looms over our heads that seems to be the common denominator."
Indeed. It's always something with these Ducks, who continue to find new ways to lose.
"It's been a very frustrating year," Hebert said. "I know the fans are very frustrated, and nobody is more frustrated than the guys in the dressing room.
"It's all of a sudden become a rebuilding year. When you're putting the Stanley Cup champion [Detroit] to the limit in the second round of the playoffs and the next season there are quite a few changes and everybody's not meeting expectations, it's frustrating."
At least the Ducks scored Sunday, ending their shutout streak at a whopping 170 minutes 15 seconds. Neither Selanne nor Green proved to be much of a factor, but that had more to do with Carolina's defensive intensity than anything else.
Selanne did not have a shot on goal in 25:08 of playing time. Green had two shots in his second game since he was acquired Feb. 6 in a six-player trade with the New York Islanders.
Defenseman Ruslan Salei ended the Ducks' drought by whipping a backhander past Carolina goalie Trevor Kidd at 2:14 of the third period for the Ducks' first goal in a week. They were shut out Friday by San Jose and Wednesday by Detroit.
The loss kept the Ducks seven points behind the Edmonton Oilers in the fight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It also left them one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks, the conference's last-place team.
"It's unrealistic to say we want to get home-ice advantage or finish fifth or sixth, but seventh or eighth is realistic," Hebert said. "Every game we don't get any points takes us out of the mix. If you say to me, 'Do you think you can get fifth or sixth,' I'd have to say there's not enough time.
"We need one game to get us over the hump and give everyone a good feeling."
The grumbling began after about three minutes and the fans gave Hebert a Bronx cheer after he stopped Carolina's third shot, a slow roller from center ice. The fans did it again later in the period and cheered heartily when Shtalenkov was introduced to start the final period.
"They Bronx-cheered me and it didn't bother me . . . you've got to put those things behind you," Hebert said. "We certainly had enough time left in the game. I wanted to give my teammates the impression I hadn't given up, that two goals wasn't that big of a deficit."