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Pro Hockey | DUCK REPORT

As Things Get Tight, Tough Stretch Awaits

January 02, 2003|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

No one said this rebuilding thing was going to be easy, and the Mighty Ducks are well aware of that these days.

After a disastrous four-game trip, the Ducks have three games at home, where they have a nine-game unbeaten streak. The Ducks' four consecutive losses were a stern reminder that there is a thin line between being a competitive team and league doormat.

The Ducks were going fine before the Christmas break, having won five of six games. The bottom fell out on the road, with losses to San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Minnesota that dropped the Ducks from seventh to 10th place in the Western Conference.

Coach Mike Babcock singled out forwards Mike Leclerc and Matt Cullen for blame, benching them in the third period in Tuesday's loss to Minnesota.

But it takes a village to orchestrate a slump like this.

"I don't think I have any explanation," center Adam Oates said. "If I had one, I'd be the best coach of all time.

"One thing leads to another, it snowballs a little bit. You start making mistakes, you lose your confidence, you over-try, a lot of little things happen. Teams go through this, you have to regroup and be strong. Hopefully the older guys can lead by example, because we have been through it."

That won't be easy. The Ducks' next stretch of games has them playing Philadelphia, Dallas, Edmonton, Colorado and St. Louis, all teams with more points than the Ducks in the standings.

"It's not an automatic switch, from not playing good to clicking on all cylinders," center Steve Rucchin said. "It gets done by outworking the other team and making sure you do the important things right."

*

The trip marked the seventh consecutive season the Ducks have been on the road after the Christmas break. In three of those seasons, they were on the road just before Christmas. The trips have ranged from four to six games.

That was the mandate of former team president Tony Tavares, who asked the NHL to put the Ducks on the road after Christmas.

Another Disney operation, its ice show, occupies the Arrowhead Pond while children are on winter break from school.

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