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Nowhere to Go but Up for Ducks

Hockey: Struggles continue for Anaheim, which goes quietly in a 4-1 loss to Vancouver.


VANCOUVER, Canada — The calendar shows it's only November. The air on this side of the border is crisp, but not yet frigid. The Christmas decorations haven't fully bloomed on neighborhood homes and downtown stores.

But the Mighty Ducks could be all but history, folks.

The Ducks don't have what it takes to measure up against their Western Conference foes. That point was made crystal clear again Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the efficient Vancouver Canucks before 14,848 at General Motors Place.

"I can't say we're playing so poorly or that something is missing," right wing Teemu Selanne said, trying to put the best (only?) spin he could after the Ducks' seventh consecutive game without a victory against the Canucks.

This was merely the 26th of 82 games this season, but the Ducks' confidence appears to be shot, their will to win dented by another night of toiling in frustration.

Perhaps they would have looked better with top centers Steve Rucchin (broken nose and cheekbone) and German Titov (concussion) in the lineup, but they weren't fit.

What's worse for the 11th-place Ducks is that their loss to the Canucks gave them a combined 2-10-2 record against the 10 teams ahead of them in the conference standings.

"We have to believe in ourselves right now," Selanne said. "We're so close to taking off and being a better hockey team. It's a shame it hasn't happened yet."

In order to rejoin the race, the Ducks must put together a winning streak. So far, they don't seem capable of doing it, which is why they are eight points out of a playoff spot.

What's an organization to do?

Keep plugging away, according to Coach Craig Hartsburg. It seems like a dull answer, but it's apparently the only answer. Well, that and cutting out atrocious mistakes that lead to goals for the opposition.

Restricted free agent Eric Lindros was cleared Monday by his doctor to play again after sitting out because of his sixth concussion in 27 months. But Lindros said Tuesday he will only play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Signing or trading for Lindros isn't an option for Pierre Gauthier, Duck president and general manager. Gauthier also said he wouldn't trade Selanne or Paul Kariya, which means a major roster shake-up isn't forthcoming--at least not one involving those two. He also said he wouldn't fire Hartsburg.

Gauthier told the players during a 20-minute meeting Nov. 16 that they'd have to work things out for themselves. Their play has improved since his speech, but the results aren't much better for the 8-12-4-2 Ducks. They are 2-3-1 since ending a 0-6-2 winless streak with a 6-2 rout Nov. 18 against the Phoenix Coyotes.

"You want to play a perfect game," Kariya said. "We're a young team. We're going to make mistakes. We make two or three mistakes and, the way it's been going, they end up in the back of our net."

The Ducks skated as if on a mission to start Tuesday's game, which has been their custom since Gauthier's talk. But they failed to click on three power-play opportunities in the first period. The best they could do was defenseman Niclas Havelid's blast off the left goal post.

The Ducks gave up rookie Daniel Sedin's power-play goal, on an easy tap-in off a cross-ice pass from twin brother, Henrik, at 9:50 of the first period.

Then the Ducks crumbled to start the second period, which also has become a familiar method of operation. A couple of lapses led to Vancouver goals early in the second period.

First, the Ducks rolled out a red carpet for defenseman Mattias Ohlund to skate from the right point to the bottom of the right faceoff circle. No one laid a hand on him and Ohlund whipped a quick shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere 2:30 into the middle period.

Next, the Ducks watched as Giguere stopped Markus Naslund's shot from the left wing. Giguere deflected Naslund's rebound try, but couldn't keep Todd Bertuzzi's try out of the net at 3:46.

Havelid's power-play goal ended Felix Potvin's shutout bid 1:43 into the final period, but Naslund restored the Canucks' three-goal lead with his team-leading 15th goal of the season with 6:45 left.

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