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Corey Perry picks his spots with Ducks

He is tied for the NHL lead in goals and has become one of the favorites for MVP consideration.

March 29, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Ducks right wing Corey Perry has played a leading role in the team's playoff push.
Ducks right wing Corey Perry has played a leading role in the team's… (Ron Chenoy / U.S. Presswire )

Something transports Corey Perry to the net. It isn't magic, even if it seems like some mystical force suddenly drops the 6-foot-3, 212-pound winger in front of some nervous goaltender.

One moment Perry is breathing down the goalie's neck from behind, his stick tapping as it juggles the puck and then, whoosh, suddenly he is in front of the net, the puck still on his stick.

The goalie is keyed up, coiled, maybe even desperate. Will Perry flick the puck low? Will he treat his stick as a shovel and heave the puck into a corner? Will he suddenly whirl and pass to one of his linemates, Bobby Ryan or Ryan Getzlaf?

Teemu Selanne does trick for Ducks in 5-4 win

There are so many options for Perry, the Ducks' 25-year-old star whose goal-scoring surge — he is tied for the NHL lead with 44 — has carried his team up the Western Conference standings and into the top eight.

Only the top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs. And if seventh place doesn't seem spectacular, the Ducks were mostly picked to finish out of the running this season.

They are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games, and Perry's goals — 10 have been game-winners, tying a club record — along with 42 assists have made him a candidate for the Hart Trophy, given to the league's most valuable player.

For most of this season, the favorite candidates have been Vancouver's Daniel Sedin, who is leading the NHL in scoring (40 goals, 98 points), Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos (44 goals, 89 points) and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews (31 goals, 75 points).

Teemu Selanne, who at age 40 has 634 career goals and counting, has Perry figured out.

"He's so sneaky, first of all," Selanne says. "If a goalie knows where someone is going to shoot from it's pretty easy, but Corey shoots from where nobody expects because his hands, they're so skilled. It's like he has 10 hands. I call him 'Octopussy' — like the James Bond film.

Perry, however, is better at playing goaltender when asked to talk about his game, his current hot streak, where his penchant for scoring game-changing goals comes from. He pokes the questions away with one-sentence answers.

Does he remember his first game-winning goal?

"Um, no," Perry says.

First NHL game-winner?

"No, really, I don't," he says.

Any favorites?

"I like them all."

But the dramatics of so many of his goals — 23 of them have tied the score or put the Ducks ahead — and the fact that 13 of them have come in March, tying the team record for goals in a month, has captured attention and fueled the MVP buzz.

The last time a Ducks player had 13 goals in a month? Paul Kariya in January 2000. The only other to match that? Selanne in November 1997.

Selanne, the hero in Monday's victory with his 22nd career hat trick, is leading the conversation about why Perry should be considered for the Hart Trophy.

"To me," Selanne says, "Corey should be in the picture. He has been rock-solid the whole year, but lately, when the games are critical, he's unbelievable. He's the full package."

For the first few years of his career, Perry was considered something of an annoyance, a trash-talker who played, as Selanne said, "not just on the edge but sometimes over the edge."

Drafted by the Ducks in the first round of the 2003 entry draft, Perry has always been a talker on the ice — and on the bench. Abrasive, chippy.

"He's always saying something," Ryan says. "You can't keep him quiet, but it's always about hockey. But when you get him away from the ice, he's really quiet, almost a different person."

Though Ryan says Perry has learned to tone down his aggressive mouthiness on the ice, he hasn't lost his aggressiveness in front of the net.

"He goes to the places most guys don't want to go, where it can get pretty tough," Ryan said. "He doesn't back away."

Perry, when asked what he thinks about his name coming up in Hart Trophy discussions, offers at least a glimpse of emotion.

"If that happens, it happens," he says. "At the end of the day, that would be kind of interesting. It is kind of cool to hear that thrown out there, but it would be more of a team accomplishment."

Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle makes a no-nonsense case for Perry being one of the best players in the league.

"He's been our leader," Carlyle says. "He's the type of player coaches trust. When you have trust in a player, that's a huge compliment. Look at the minutes he's getting." Perry averaged 25:27 minutes of ice time over his last five games.

"He's killing penalties, playing four on four, and in all those roles he's delivering," Carlyle adds. "Is there anybody else doing a better job of that? I'd like to see it."

Besides leading the league in goals, Perry is tied for fourth in points (86) and power-play goals (12) and is tied for seventh in short-handed goals (three) — numbers that point to his all-around importance, Carlyle says.

If Perry ends up winning the goal-scoring title, he would be only the second Duck (besides Selanne) to have accomplished that. And only two Ducks — Selanne and Kariya — have been Hart Trophy finalists. Neither won.

"Corey probably won't win either," Selanne says with a smile. "But people should be talking about him that way."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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