Let me tell you a little story about me growing up as a sports geek. Every single day in elementary school and junior high, I’d race out to the playground at lunch to play any kind of sport going on. If it was October, it was baseball. If it was January, we were playing football. If it was March, we were playing basketball. Basically, whatever was on TV at the moment—that’s what we were playing. We’d pretend to be our favorite players and win championships in all three sports in one calendar year. We were kids.
Obviously, when you’re growing up and playing sports with everyone else, one of the first life lessons is that some people will be better than others. We might love sports, but we might not be quite as good as that guy who’s stronger and faster than everyone else. It happens. For me, as the smallest kid in my classes, it happened a lot. But damn it, I loved it and still think back to some of those games as memories I’ll hold on to forever.
But there was another life lesson in there that was probably an introduction to sociology. Or maybe psychology. Or some other social science. It was when we saw that the big kid, who was kind of a bully, got to play because, well—he was a bully. The problem was that even though he was bigger, tougher, and scarier than everyone else—those skills never really translated to our field de jour. In our case, the bully couldn’t hit or field in baseball, couldn’t shoot or dribble in basketball, and couldn’t throw or catch in football. He was useless. And since he’s not standing right in front of me, I can say he was pathetic.
So here’s what happened—and it happened once every few weeks. The bully would get pissed. He’d either try to start a fight with one of the good athletes because he was tired of getting beaten, or kick the ball as far as he could because he was a child. He threw a temper-tantrum because he wasn’t as good as the other kids and it hurt his feelings. Like I said, it was pathetic. But he was 8-years-old, so he gets a bit of a pass.
Now when an entire NHL team made up of 20 adults is throwing fits and starting fights because they’re not as good as the opposition, it’s a completely different matter. Maybe it’s not because they suck—maybe it’s because they’re not as good as they used to be. Is it still pathetic? Of course it is. But they don’t get the same free pass that the 3rd grader from my youth gets.
Of course, the pathetic bullies we’re talking about here are the 2010-11 version of the Anaheim Ducks. To start the season, they’re showing fans a historically awesome mix of futility on the ice with eagerness to throw the fists. On the ice, they showed us just how poorly a season can start with an 0-3 road trip. If a team could ever earn four losses in three games, these would have been them.
The problem isn’t that they lost three games to start the season. That happens to good and bad teams alike. The problem is the way they lost them. After being outscored 8-1 over the first two games of the season, they followed that up with one of their worst games over the last decade. For fans hoping to see Anaheim bounce back after two lackluster performances, they were outshot 53-14 en route to being hammered 5-1. The truth of the matter is, the game wasn’t even that close.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, getting badly outshot and subsequently outscored wasn’t an isolated incident against St. Louis. This isn’t something that magically appeared when the regular season started—it’s something that has been a problem since the beginning of the preseason. In 10 games (7 preseason, 3 regular season), Earl Sleek from Battle of California tells us that the Ducks have been outshot 410-235 (265-163 preseason, 145-72 regular season) and outscored 41-22 (28-20 preseason, 13-2 regular season). For those of you who are new to hockey this season, that’s bad.
So what’s the problem, Mr. VFMS? Well, this is where we get into the “we suck so we’re going to beat you up” syndrome. Through 3 games, the Ducks have 5 of the top 11 PIM players in the entire league. Top liners Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry are vying for the league lead—both tied atop the NHL at 23 PIMs. Sheldon Brookbank has 19 minutes, Paul Mara has 18 minutes (mostly for saving Ryan Getzlaf from fighting), and noted pornstache wearer pugilist George Parros has 14 penalty minutes. EJ Hradek from ESPN.com sums up their collective lawbreaking with perspective:
In 3 games, Anaheim has been tagged with 28 minor, 7 major, and 4 misconduct penalties. That’s 141 penalty minutes – 53 more PIMs than anyone else.
To clarify: from a team perspective, they’re leading the league. From an individual perspective, they’re leading the league. From a fighting perspective, they’re leading the league and from a misconduct perspective, they’re leading the league.
Their biggest problem (aside from the whole shots allowed thing) has been the inability of their defense to make the first pass out of the zone. That might not be an exciting thing to talk about, but it certainly is a big deal when it’s not going right. We didn’t talk about those problems for the last 5 years because Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger are two of the best defenseman in recent history with the 1st pass out of the zone. Without many defenseman capable—it’s killing Jonas Hiller because the turnovers lead to prime scoring opportunities, and it’s killing the offense because the blueliners are unable to get the puck to their gifted forwards with any kind of speed. Maybe Andreas Lilja will be the answer?
The combination of not being competitive on the ice and predictably racking up the penalty minutes is pathetic, but this gets into a very fine line in hockey. When they were winning, their style was tough and gritty. Nobody in the NHL expected an easy game against the Ducks—it was either lose or get a bloody nose in exchange for the win. More often than not, people took the loss and went on their merry way.
This season is different. Instead of being that team that’s tough to play against, they’re the team who will start fights once the game is out of hand. Instead of working hard and battling for every inch of the ice, opponents have to prepare for a different kind of team. Now, the actual “hockey” part of the game comes a lot easier. But once the opponent has built their 3 or 4 goal lead (which has happened in every game), then they know the Ducks will resort to the rough stuff that they were known for when they were successful. This was the case last year when they were struggling, but it bares repeating: when a team fights all the time and they’re good, that’s a tough team with grit. But when they’re awful, it just comes off as pathetic.
Needless to say, the first week of the season has been pathetic. Maybe they’re just slow starters? Or maybe over the next 80 games, they’ll learn how to keep the puck out of their own net and their players out of the penalty box. At this point, either one will do.