The Anaheim Ducks lost more than a string of games on a post All-Star-break road trip, as the last-place team in the Western Conference finally returns home Wednesday with a new head coach.
It figured to be a rough time for the Ducks, who were starting to struggle even before the just-concluded stretch that had them play all but one game at home over a 31-day span.
Anaheim did end a franchise-worst 12-game losing streak during that time, but went 2-8-1 during the journey and will play host to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday with Bob Murray on the bench, having replaced the fired Randy Carlyle.
Murray, the team's vice president and general manager, will now add interim head coach to his duties. He suggested his decision to move to the bench was influenced by a desire to be accountable for the team he put together and to face those players in the heat of competition each game.
"I had go downstairs and live it with these guys," Murray said this week. "I have to find out everything going on down here. It's more problematic than I thought a while ago. The only way I felt it was fair was for me to get down there. I touched base with a lot of people I respect in this business a while ago. I felt this was the right time."
Entering Wednesday, the Ducks (21-26-9) were tied for last place in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Kings at 51 points. They also have significant goaltender issues, as John Gibson (upper body) and Chad Johnson (head) were both placed in injured reserve Wednesday. Ryan Miller (knee) was activated from IR, but he will serve as the Ducks' backup against the Canucks, as 26-year-old Kevin Boyle will get his first NHL start.
Boyle made his NHL debut against Philadelphia on Saturday, allowing two goals on 26 shots in two periods of play.
Meanwhile, the Canucks (25-25-7, 57 points) sit just outside of playoff qualifiers despite a 5-6-3 run over their last 14 games.
Vancouver is going through some changes as well, with 19-year old goaltender Michael DiPietro, a third-round pick in 2017, making his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks on Monday. Center Zack MacEwen also made his NHL debut Monday, registering his first career point with an assist.
DiPietro's emergency presence was borne of injuries to both Jacob Markstrom (lower body) and Thatcher Demko (knee), and his struggles were predictable in a 7-2 defeat to the Sharks. But he managed to see the bright side of his debut.
"Definitely not the ideal first game, but it's something I've dreamt about my entire life, and to have the opportunity this young to do it, it's something that's positive for me, that I'll take as a learning experience," DiPietro said.
Reports indicate that Markstrom will return in goal Wednesday against the Ducks, but DiPietro could get another chance, possibly Thursday at Los Angeles against the Kings.
Victories in the upcoming games against the floundering Ducks and Kings could help bolster the Canucks' playoff chances.
For the Ducks, right winger Patrick Eaves (illness), defenseman Korbinian Holzer (personal) and right winger Kevin Roy (upper body) are all day-to-day. Right winger Ondrej Kase (shoulder) is out indefinitely.
--Field Level Media