The Anaheim Mighty Ducks are finally showing signs of the form that carried them to the Stanley Cup finals last season. The Minnesota Wild still haven’t recovered from losing to the Ducks in the conference finals.
Anaheim continues its push for first place in the Pacific Division when it meets Minnesota for the first time since sweeping the Wild for the Western Conference title.
Roster turnover, and perhaps the hangover from their seven-game loss to New Jersey in the Cup finals contributed to the Ducks’ struggles early this season. Anaheim lost its first five games as 2003 playoff MVP Jean-Sebastien Giguere struggled after signing a new contract, and offseason acquisitions Sergei Fedorov and Vinny Prospal adjusted to their new team.
The Ducks have started to put it together of late, going 4-0-2-4 in their last 10 to move within one point of division-leading Dallas.
A big reason for that is Fedorov, who scored his first game-winning goal for Anaheim as the Ducks beat the struggling Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 on Friday.
Fedorov has five goals and four assists in his last seven games. The six-time All-Star had only three goals in his first 16 games with Anaheim, after ending a 13-year run with the Detroit Red Wings.
“It takes time to get used to a new system and a new coach and everything,” teammate Petr Sykora said. “But we know how good a player he is and it was just a matter of time before he broke through. I’m just looking forward to watching him for the next 59 games.”
Offense has been the major culprit in Minnesota’s fall this season, and Giguere could be the reason. He stopped 122 of 123 Wild shots in the conference finals, only giving up a goal in the series finale.
Whether Giguere is responsible or not, the Wild have been completely unable to recapture the magic that carried them to the West finals. Minnesota is just trying to get out of last place in the Northwest Division, but lost its fourth in a row Friday night, 2-1 to San Jose.
The defeat prompted the Wild to hold a players-only team meeting after the game.
“We’re frustrated,” winger Andrew Brunette said. “Things aren’t going our way, and I don’t think we’ve handled it the right way as a team. Some things had to be said, and I hope we got the point.”
The Wild fell to 1-5-1 when trailing after one period Friday. Minnesota managed only a second-period goal by Brunette and had just 18 shots on goal.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 28): Mighty Ducks - 24 points, 2nd place (tied), 1 PB, Pacific Division. Wild - 19 points, 5th place, 13 PB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Mighty Ducks - Steve Rucchin, 9 goals; Fedorov and Andy McDonald, 11 assists; Fedorov, 19 points; Todd Simpson, 65 PIM. Wild - Alexandre Daigle, 8 goals; Brunette, 10 assists and 16 points; Matt Johnson, 49 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 28): Mighty Ducks - Power play: 17.2 percent (17 for 99), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.5 percent (80 for 97), 23rd. Wild - Power play: 15.4 percent (16 for 104), 17th (tied). Penalty killing: 83.0 percent (73 for 88), 18th.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Mighty Ducks, 2-1-0-1.
LAST MEETING: May 16; Wild 2-1, OT. At Anaheim, Calif., Adam Oates scored twice, and Giguere stopped 24 shots as the Ducks completed their second sweep of the playoffs.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Mighty Ducks - 3-4-1-3 on the road; Wild - 4-7-2-0 at home.