The juicy subplot to Sunday's game between the Ducks and the Edmonton Oilers seemed certain to come to a head.
But there was no shouting match or chance public encounter between the Ducks' Brian Burke and the Oilers' Kevin Lowe, the teams' bickering general managers who avoided each other even as the NHL dispatched extra security because of the tension between the two.
And the subject of the controversial offer sheet at the heart of that tension, Dustin Penner, did little in his first appearance at Honda Center since he skated around the ice with the Stanley Cup in June.
In the end, it was about the Ducks and their inability to win. They let a late lead slip away in regulation, allowing the Oilers to pull out a 3-2 shootout win before a sellout crowd of 17,174.
So frustrated are the reigning Stanley Cup champions with their disappointing 4-7-2 start that Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle took the rare step of going without practice the next two days.
"It's been a very, very taxing month on our group," Carlyle said.
A victory to end the Ducks' three-game losing streak seemed at hand when Corey Perry gave them a 2-1 third-period lead with a vicious one-timer past former Kings goaltender Mathieu Garon, now an Oilers' backup. A high-sticking penalty by Edmonton defenseman Steve Staios gave the Ducks a late power play.
However, holding a man advantage has spelled doom, and this was no exception. The Ducks did not score -- they have gone without in their last 16 tries -- and the Oilers tied it with 1 minute 27 seconds left as rookie Andrew Cogliano deflected Geoff Sanderson's shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
"You can't play on your heels," said Giguere, who made 20 saves. "You've got to keep focusing on doing what it takes to really be successful. When you're on the power play, you've got to try to score.
"We were a little bit tentative, and that's the sign of a team that doesn't have full confidence in itself right now."
Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky scored on Giguere in the shootout. Meanwhile, Garon turned aside both attempts by the Ducks, along with stopping 30 shots in regulation.
The Ducks' offensive struggles were best summed up in the second period when Brad May appeared to have a certain goal only to see Garon dive backward toward the open net to get his glove on the backhand shot.
"We just seemed to be snake-bitten," Carlyle said. "If something can go wrong for us, it goes wrong right now."
Penner played his first game against the team that passed on matching the five-year, $21.25-million offer sheet, which left Burke livid over the amount given to a player with one full NHL season. Burke characterized Lowe's move as "classless" and "gutless," and Lowe responded by calling Burke an "egomaniac" and "blowhard." On Sunday, they sat in adjacent boxes. A welcome on the scoreboard for Penner generated some cheers mixed with mild booing.
"You never fully understand what it is going to be like until you come back," Penner said.
Right now, the winger is the last thing on the Ducks' mind.
"Confidence comes from winning and doing the right things," the Ducks' Andy McDonald said. "Right now, it doesn't seem like we have a lot of it."