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Another poor effort by Ducks

February 16, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

How quickly the Ducks have fallen, how dizzying their descent from 2007 Stanley Cup champions to a team that can't keep the puck out of its own net and on Sunday couldn't sustain a respectable effort against the Atlanta Thrashers, the second-worst team in the NHL.

The Ducks' stumbles and first-round playoff exit last season could be written off to a post-Cup hangover and the on-and-off retirements of Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer.

There are no excuses for their team-wide defensive collapse this season and no valid explanation Sunday for their lack of discipline and competitiveness in an 8-4 loss at the Honda Center.

What happened?

"I wish I had the answer for you," center Ryan Getzlaf said.

"We got embarrassed in our own building tonight."

Veteran forward Todd Marchant wasn't even sure what the final score had been, unable to keep up with the flashing numbers that added up to the most goals the Ducks have given up this season.

"It's tough to put into words, really," he said. "It seemed like every mistake we made in our zone ended up in our net.

"We should have had plenty of energy tonight. Not that we didn't have energy, we just didn't channel it in the right direction. As a result you walk away with an 8-4 loss to a team that on paper you should beat."

The game isn't played on paper, where the Ducks rank a barely-in-the-picture eighth.

They've also played more games than most of their rivals in the Western Conference playoff scramble. They could be out of a playoff position by their next game, against the Kings on Wednesday at Anaheim.

All in all, this game was. . . .

"Ugly," Coach Randy Carlyle said, facing the facts more squarely than his goaltenders faced Atlanta's 43 shots.

And it came from. . . .

"I don't know," he said. "Those are ones that you bang your head against the wall and you try to figure out how we could perform to the level we performed it."

Abandoning the discipline they had grudgingly adopted, the Ducks took six straight penalties starting early in the first period and ending midway through the second period. They paid for that in the form of power-play goals by Bryan Little, off a nice pass from Ilya Kovalchuk, and Kovalchuk on a one-timer during a five-on-three advantage, giving Atlanta a 3-1 lead.

Colby Armstrong, left unchecked, pounced on a rebound for the Thrashers' fourth goal, at 5:41 of the second period, and Kovalchuk scored on a 40-foot snap shot to put Atlanta ahead, 5-1, at 7:40.

"The floodgates opened in the second period," Ducks defenseman Chris Pronger said.

The deluge engulfed goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who was pulled from a game for the sixth time this season. He gave up five goals on 25 shots, and though not all of them were his fault, it wasn't a distinguished effort.

His replacement, Jonas Hiller, fared no better: Hiller was beaten on the first shot he saw, as Kovalchuk completed his first hat trick of the season. That gave Atlanta a 6-1 lead and drew boos from a crowd that was announced as a standing-room-only 17,228 but never filled clusters of seats in the upper or lower bowls.

The jeers were richly deserved -- not by Hiller alone but for everyone in a Ducks uniform.

"When you give up eight goals, goaltending has to take some of the responsibility," Carlyle said, "but I think in this situation there's 20 guys and the coaching staff that have to take the responsibility for this. Not the goaltender. He's one member of our team."

The Ducks tried to stage a comeback. Selanne batted down a shot by Brett Festerling at 14:05 of the second period and Bobby Ryan scored his rookie-leading 19th goal on a wicked snap shot at 2:26 of the third, but Colin Stuart short-circuited that with a short-handed goal at the six-minute mark after he intercepted a pass that Scott Niedermayer had intended for Pronger.

Andrew Ebbett's goal at 10:02 of the final period completed the scoring for the Ducks, if not the humiliation. The final indignity was inflicted by Atlanta defenseman Niclas Havelid, who banged a clearing pass off the boards from behind his own net while the Thrashers were short-handed and was as surprised as anyone in the rapidly emptying building to see it slide 190 feet down the ice and into the vacated Ducks net.

"We've got to act like it's do or die," Pronger said, "and we're just not doing that right now."

Instead, they're doing everything they can to persuade General Manager Bob Murray that he should break up the team and consider all decent offers he gets before the March 4 trading deadline.

The Ducks began this season thinking this core group had one more sustained playoff run left in it.

There's little reason to believe that anymore. First, they'd have to make the playoffs -- and at this rate, it's not going to happen.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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