Ducks Soar Through February...and Beyond|
By Ray Van Horn, Jr. Copyright 1999
Quit laughing, Ducks detractors. Like it or not, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are currently the NHL's hottest team.
Forget the kiddie movies, cartoons, action figures and lunch boxes. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks, posting a 29-25-9 as of March 5th are, at long last, a real deal.
Going 10-3 through February, the Ducks have managed to come together as a whole unit, as opposed to being a showcase for their three key figureheads: Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya and Guy Hebert.
By all means, however, these three stars are worth extolling all of the publicity and accolades consistently poured upon them.
Let's start with Teemu Selanne. Named the NHL's Player of the Month for February, Selanne, who has scored in his eighth straight game (coming against the Nashville Predators on March 5th) and fifteenth consecutive game with a point, has been utterly explosive. To date in the 1998/99 season, he has 81 points--45 assists and 36 goals. He needs only 14 more to duplicate his 50 goal tally of last year.
In February alone, Selanne racked up 12 goals in 13 games. On February 27th, Teemu scored his 300th NHL goal in a win over the San Jose Sharks. It should be noted that the Sharks took a bite on the corner of Teemu's eye in that game, and he came back in fine fashion, to say the least. Selanne is only the sixth fastest player to reach the landmark 300. He did it in 464 games, joining the elite company of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Mike Bossy and Jari Kurri.
Selanne's mate, Paul Kariya, is likewise on a roll. Carrying 78 points through March 5th--27 goals, 51 assists--the Ducks captain is as fast as you're likely to see on the ice today. An unchecked Kariya spells trouble, and opposing goalminders get a sweaty workout from him. Kariya has blasted 342 shots on goal thus far into the late season. To coin a rapidly developing cliche, Kariya represents the future of hockey, and is expected to assume Gretzky's mantle of greatness in due time.
Together, Kariya and Selanne make up one of the most fearsome front lines in the league.
Having a very solid year in net is Guy "The Man" Hebert. The elder statesman of the Anaheim franchise was granted a three-year contract extension on February 4th. Guy currently has a team career best 25-21-7 record, as well as a 2.34 goals against average and .925 save percentage.
These are the names you know well, but the Mighty Ducks boast a plethora of rising stars, guided masterfully by new Anaheim skipper, Craig Hartsburg. Formerly the Chicago Blackhawks' head coach, Hartsburg has turned his new team around in the right direction, perfectly working the strengths of his marquee players while honing his up-and-comers.
Center Steve Rucchin acts as point man for Hartsburg's zone attack. With 22 goals and 34 assists, Rucchin has a savvy ice demeanor that makes him valuable to Kariya and Selanne's line. Rucchin also has the fewest penalty minutes (18) of all Ducks playing 55 or more games.
Wingers Marty McInnis and Tomas Sandstrom generally lead Anaheim's second line. With 17 goals and 26 assists for McInnis and 10 goals, 13 assists for Sandstrom (in just 39 games), they give Kariya and Selanne opportunities to recharge on change-ups, thus making them more effective. In the past two seasons, Selanne and Kariya had to carry the whole team on exhausting shifts.
Centers Matt Cullen and Travis Green are steadfast on the secondary with 19 and 27 points respectively.
Perhaps the most critical improvement the Ducks have made this season is on defense. Noted in the past as soft, penetrable and easily mauled, Anaheim has tightened up with bright stars like Fredric Olousson (who also has 14 goals, 30 assists), Ted Drury, Ruslan Salei and the scrappy Jason Marshall, who finally gives the Ducks a much needed enforcer. Check out his 122 PIMS!
As mentioned before, Guy Hebert has given the Mighty Ducks hard play in goal, as he always has, but he now has reliable backup in the form of Dominic Roussel. Roussel is sorely needed after the loss of Mikhail Shtalenkov. Acquired from the Nashville Predators, Roussel has put up a 4-4-2 record for his new team, along with a .927 save percentage and 2.37 GAA. One can't help but be impressed by Roussel's stoic performance in goal, warding off 45 shots in a thrilling 2-1 December triumph over the Colorado Avalanche. Roussel has also haunted his former club in a March 5th 3-2 victory over the Predators.
The Disney folks have sunk their considerable funds into making the Mighty Ducks a quality team that is no longer dismissed by their opposition as a bunch of quacks. Having carried their February success into March with wins over the Preds and the L.A. Kings, the Ducks have extended their win streak to six, tying a franchise record. They have caught up within 3 points of the shaky second place Phoenix Coyotes in the Pacific Division and command fifth place in the Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff positioning.
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks are shooting for their second playoff appearance in their struggling six year history, and if they remain to their task, look for them to be a major player in the coveted cup tourney.
Copyright©1999 The HockeyNut