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Ducks still haven't solved their lack of discipline

October 10, 2008|Helene Elliott

SAN JOSE -- Still feeling the sting of their first-round playoff elimination last spring, the Ducks had vowed they would resemble the fast, forceful team that won the Stanley Cup in 2007.

In their 4-1 loss to the Sharks on Thursday they looked far more like last season's penalty-prone, offensively challenged bunch than their championship selves.

With their core in place and their minor training-camp dramas resolved, Ducks players had said they felt settled as the season began.

All that was settled at the HP Pavilion is that they weren't ready for the energy and consistent pressure exerted by the Sharks, who rode a pair of second-period goals by Jonathan Cheechoo to victory in the season opener for both teams.

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar:

The Ducks -- who led the NHL in penalty minutes last season -- took three penalties in a row in the middle period, including two that gave the Sharks a five-on-three advantage. Overall, they took five minor penalties in that 20-minute span and seven in the game, far too many to establish any kind of flow to their offense.

If not for half a dozen agile pad saves by Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Sharks easily could have scored seven or eight goals without fear of retribution.

"When they stepped it up a notch, it almost surprised us," Giguere said. "And we should know better, being a veteran team. That's not something that should have surprised us."

The Ducks were too busy killing penalties to mount any kind of attack. In the second period they didn't take a shot on goal until 10 minutes 39 seconds had passed. They were outshot, 41-29, in the game.

They scored their only goal with 5:25 left in the third period, on a shot from the point that was taken by Steve Montador and tipped past Evgeni Nabokov by Rob Niedermayer.

Cheechoo scored his first goal at even strength, but that capped a sequence in which the Ducks were unable to clear the puck out of their own zone, a problem that plagued them the entire game.

Cheechoo, who slumped last season to 23 goals after scoring 37 and 56 in his previous two seasons, finished things off by poking home the rebound of a Dan Boyle shot at 2:32.

With Scott Niedermayer serving a high-sticking penalty that appeared to be purely accidental, Cheechoo increased San Jose's lead to 2-0 at 6:44 by snapping a shot from the slot past Giguere.

Montador, a defenseman who signed with the Ducks as a free agent in July, was indirectly responsible for the Sharks' third goal. He was serving a holding penalty when Christian Ehroff took a long shot through traffic and the puck, after appearing to deflect at least once, found the net at 2:52.

"We like to play on the edge, and that's great. I love that we play that way," Giguere said. "But at the same time, we need to keep our mouths shut. We need to stop yapping at the referee. We need to stop blaming everybody else. We've got to look in the mirror."

San Jose scored its final goal at 15:57, on a backhander by Devin Setoguchi.

These are supposed to be two of the best teams in a very deep and competitive conference. The Sharks certainly lived up to that billing, giving new Coach Todd McLellan a quick start in his new job and exciting a sellout crowd of 17,496.

Fans here had begun to expect the worst about the Sharks, who were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in six games in each of the last three seasons. In three of the last four postseasons under their previous coach, Ron Wilson, they had been upset by opponents.

On Thursday, Sharks fans saw the best of their hometown team.

The Sharks were physical. The Ducks were soft.

The Sharks went to the net. The Ducks went to the penalty box.

The Sharks played with a sureness and energy that spoke of hunger and determination.

The Ducks played with a lack of conviction that hinted they are not prepared for the constant challenges they will face this season.

Teemu Selanne was invisible aside from taking a penalty in the second period. Second-line center Brendan Morrison, who's being counted on to supplement an offense that was all too feeble last season, didn't get much chance to shine because the Ducks were killing so many penalties.

Of course, this was only the first game of the season, one of 82. But the Ducks can't play many more like this if they want to be like their triumphant 2007 team instead of last season's version.

--

Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.

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