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Wild Bunch Plays Havoc With Defenseless Ducks

Hockey: Anaheim looks like expansion team in embarrassing 5-0 loss to Minnesota.


Pierre Gauthier, Mighty Duck president and general manager, was not stationed at an Arrowhead Pond exit Wednesday giving fans their money back. But perhaps he, or someone else from the organization, should have been apologizing after the Ducks set new standards for futility en route to a 5-0 loss to a team that didn't play its first game until four months ago.

An announced crowd of 11,692, which dwindled to perhaps 2,500 in the final period, showed up expecting to see two NHL teams do battle. Only one, the expansion Minnesota Wild, turned up.

Minnesota's Sergei Krivokrasov, Roman Simicek and Wes Walz (short-handed) scored first-period goals and the Ducks were sent reeling toward their 11th loss in 16 games. Wild goaltender Manny Fernandez stopped all 20 shots he faced for his fourth shutout this season and the fifth of his career.

The biggest cheers of the evening were reserved for a 7-year-old figure skater who performed during the first intermission and a guy who proposed marriage midway through the second period.

"I don't know what rock bottom is anymore because we've been at rock bottom for a long time," defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky said. "I have no answers. I want to apologize to the fans. We're terrible right now, but we will get better. . . . On the ice, we stop believing we can win."

Embarrassing wasn't the only word to describe the Ducks' 26th loss. Pathetic and humiliating also hit the mark.

Minus four of their best six forwards and two of their top three defensemen, the Ducks looked more like a minor league team than a club whose president and general manager keeps insisting is on the right track.

The Ducks are a mere point from the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Their 15 victories are the fewest in the conference. Injuries to forwards Paul Kariya, Mike Leclerc, Marty McInnis and Steve Rucchin and defensemen Niclas Havelid and Ruslan Salei have all but ended the Ducks' postseason chances.

But the injuries also have exposed the organization's lack of depth. And right wing Teemu Selanne is long past the point of carrying the Ducks on his back, as he did in tying for the league lead with 52 goals when Kariya sat out all but 22 games of the 1997-98 season because of a contract dispute and a concussion.

The only shred of good news Wednesday was Kariya's continued improvement from a broken right foot. Kariya, injured while blocking a shot Dec. 17 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, skated for 75 minutes Wednesday morning.

"That was the best I've skated [since the injury]," Kariya said. "I felt a lot stronger today."

Kariya hopes to play either Friday against the Red Wings at Detroit or Saturday against the Blue Jackets at Columbus. Asked about possibly returning Friday at Detroit, Kariya said, "I'll have a lot of adrenaline going."

Given the Ducks' depleted state, you might think they would have relied heavily on emotion Wednesday against the Wild, using scrappy play to make up for the numerous holes in their lineup.

You would be wrong.

The Ducks started flat and were KOd in the opening period. They simply couldn't match strides with the quicker, more polished Wild, which always seemed to be positioned correctly.

The only passion the Ducks showed came during Kevin Sawyer's first-period fight with Minnesota's Andy Sutton. The bout was a draw but had the crowd buzzing.

But the Wild scored three quick goals against Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the rout was on. Scott Pellerin and Simicek (power play) scored in the second period as the Wild built a 5-0 lead.

"It's more disappointed than upset," Coach Guy Charron said when asked for his assessment. "As a team we're going to have to be more desperate and play better defensively. You can't win if you don't play good defense."

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