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DUCKS AT SAN JOSE / Opening night, 7:30, FSN Prime

Second to no one

Ducks hope their No. 2 line of Selanne, Morrison and Kunitz can boost the team's offense this season

October 09, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Teemu Selanne scooped in the puck during Friday's exhibition against Phoenix, flew past the blue line, dipped his shoulder and blasted a shot over the glove of the helpless goalkeeper.

Two seconds is all it took.

And Brendan Morrison, Selanne's new center on the Ducks, had the best seat in the house.

"Perfect view, right behind him," Morrison said. "I looked up and he's gone."

As the Ducks open the season tonight at San Jose, Morrison will be counted on to do more than watch when Selanne is on the ice. They are being paired on the second line, along with Chris Kunitz, in the hope that their speed generates more scoring.

The Ducks combined for the third-fewest goals in the NHL last season, primarily because there wasn't much scoring being done except for the Ryan Getzlaf-anchored top line.

Selanne, who sat out half of last season as he considered retirement after finally winning the Stanley Cup, is the club's all-time leading scorer. Once he rejoined the team, his ability to score helped get the Ducks into the playoffs, but they lost in the first round.

Kunitz had a career-high 25 goals and 60 points while playing alongside Selanne in the 2006-07 championship season, and Morrison -- a free agent signed in July -- scored at least 50 points in seven consecutive seasons before a string of injuries slowed his production in 2007-08.

"I don't know if you can even call them the second line," said Getzlaf, who will open the season with Corey Perry and Travis Moen as linemates. "Having those two legitimate scoring lines, it's going to help our group push forward."

Coach Randy Carlyle says he is impressed with the chemistry Selanne and Morrison developed in training camp. Their ability to play together was evident in Friday's 4-1 victory against Phoenix. Selanne scored three goals and Morrison had three assists.

Add Kunitz to the mix, and the second-line speed should make it difficult on opponents.

"We think it's important that they play that up-tempo game," said Carlyle, who predicts the line's goal production will grow as Selanne and Morrison grow more familiar with each other.

Selanne agreed.

"He's a great passer," Selanne said of Morrison. "He can see the game well and that's always good for a guy like myself because I know if I get open, the puck is coming and that makes me very active."

Morrison, 33, is hoping to get back to the level he enjoyed earlier this decade, when he played 542 consecutive games for the Vancouver Canucks, a franchise record. The streak ended when he had wrist surgery last December. He returned in March, only to suffer a torn anterior cruciate ligament nine games later.

Still, that didn't stop the Ducks from signing Morrison to a one-year deal worth $2.75 million. Morrison was cautious at the beginning of camp but felt strong enough to make his debut last week against the Kings, assisting on a goal by Kunitz in a 3-2 overtime victory.

Morrison said the most challenging part of playing alongside Selanne is keeping up with the 38-year-old right wing.

"He's so fast out there," Morrison said. "It forces you to skate, it forces you to get involved."

Selanne isn't slowing down. He scored 48 goals in the 2006-07 season, the second highest of his 17-year career, and produced 12 goals in 26 games last season, fifth best among the team's forwards.

An optimist might see that as a good sign for Selanne. A pessimist might view it as an example of the team's lack of scoring depth. Either way, Selanne said the Ducks are on the right track.

"You have to have two lines to win and do the damage," he said. "We both can challenge each other too."

Of course, the Ducks won't be able to send out their scoring lines if they're constantly killing penalties. They led the league in penalty minutes the last two seasons, but last year was especially crippling since there was no scoring depth.

Carlyle says the Ducks can mitigate the unnecessary minor penalties that plagued them. And it helps that there are fewer distractions.

"We're much more workmanlike," Carlyle said. "I don't think we have anything that's on the outside that should take us away from our focus."

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dan.arritt@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Five keys for the Ducks

1 It's OK if veteran defenseman Chris Pronger gets called for holding, hooking, tripping or even roughing, as long as he doesn't pretend to be stomping out a fire on an opponent's leg and end up suspended during a key stretch.

2 With 11 players on the roster age 30 or over, the Ducks will need to find a way to maintain their stamina without seeking over-the-counter medication.

3 Unlike distance running, fast starts in the NHL often result in better finishes. Two years ago, the Ducks started 12-0-4 and went on to hoist the Stanley Cup. They were 6-8-2 through the same stretch last season and didn't make it out of the first round.

4 One of the buzzwords in the NHL seems to be "sports hernia," though it's sometimes disguised as a groin pull or lower abdominal injury. Regardless, the Ducks have slathered on enough Bengay in the last 12 months to drive up Johnson & Johnson's stock. The Ducks need to avoid those types of nagging injuries.

5 The Ducks minor-league affiliate, the Iowa Chops, might have the most NHL-ready player in the American Hockey League in forward Bobby Ryan. Whether the Ducks can find salary-cap space to promote him could make a difference down the stretch.

-- Dan Arritt

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