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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

Ducks make a little point in overtime win against Tampa Bay

They halt a skid but it is far from pretty and includes many of the foibles that have gotten them into this mess.

November 20, 2009|Helene Elliott
  • Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf checks Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman during the third period Thursday night.
Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf checks Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman during… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

Scouts for more than a dozen NHL teams sat elbow to elbow in the press box of the Honda Center on Thursday, a rare scene before winter settles on the Canadian prairie and scouts feel a sudden need to visit the league's warmer outposts.

The Ducks are teetering, near the point where they would almost be forced to make changes to salvage a season they suspected might be difficult but didn't imagine would be in a shambles before Thanksgiving.

General Manager Bob Murray said last week he would send players out the door before he would blame Coach Randy Carlyle. With visions of deals to be made, a squadron of scouts watched the Ducks squander a three-goal lead but capitalize on an overtime power play to claw out a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We get along good and I think we have the team here to be successful," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "It's just about doing it and bearing down. We want to be a good team here so we've got to wake up."

In halting an 0-3-1 slump and opening their seven-game homestand with a win, the Ducks inched out of last in the West and cut the distance between them and the eighth place to seven points. It was far from pretty, and it included many of the foibles that have gotten them into this mess.

Their goaltending was unremarkable, a 21-save effort from Jonas Hiller that wasn't awful but was replete with juicy rebounds that the Lightning didn't put away. Their discipline wavered -- no news there -- and put unnecessary pressure on a defense that was overworked after losing James Wisniewski to a bruised right foot early in the first period.

But Ryan Getzlaf, with his third multi-point game in the last four, looked better than he has in a long time, and there's no underestimating the importance of that.

Getzlaf had a slow recovery from hernia surgery in late July and wasn't in peak shape until very recently. He couldn't urge teammates to play harder if he couldn't do that himself, so the Ducks lacked the kind of vocal and lead-by-example guidance they urgently needed.

They are getting that from him now. And they got a flawed but welcome win that was enough for Carlyle to maintain his faith in the current roster.

"I believe that we can play to a higher level," he said when asked if he still believes in his players.

"And if we can get some consistency . . . I think part of it is getting the monkey off our back. These are the kind of games that hopefully you build confidence with.

"By no means are we out of the woods. But it's a starting point, hopefully, for our group."

The fast start was more encouraging than the frantic end in the view of Scott Niedermayer, whose 40-foot slap shot beat a screened Mike Smith 52 seconds into overtime.

"We were skating, and that's how we need to play," said Niedermayer, who played a game-high 28 minutes 12 seconds.

"A couple of mistakes, again they took advantage, but we stuck with it and got the win and that's what matters."

When points are so precious, style doesn't count.

Bobby Ryan, who took a high-stick on the right eyelid during the second period but scored the Ducks' third goal during the ensuing four-minute power play, said the team might have self-destructed a few weeks ago after yielding three straight goals. To bounce back and win, he contended, was more progress than the score alone indicated.

"We showed some resiliency," he said. "As a group we pulled together and got the two points."

At the morning skate Thursday, Carlyle said he didn't look at the entirety of the homestand, and that makes sense. Seen as seven must-win games, it might be overwhelming. Taken as one period, one game, one crisis at a time, it should be more easily tackled.

"This is a game of vital importance to our hockey club," he said, a familiar refrain but one that had more truth to it than usual.

One win doesn't cure their ills. And it won't send the scouts home. The Ducks still have goaltending issues to resolve and a defense that's short on toughness since Chris Pronger was traded to Philadelphia last summer. A better and more physical defense should make the goaltenders look better and help them to at least give the Ducks a chance to win.

Thursday's victory probably forestalled a fire sale but didn't cancel it. The team that began this homestand might not be the same as the one that's here at the end, for better or for worse.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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