The Anaheim Ducks are in last place in the entire Western Conference. It’s early in the season, sure, but they’ve played 19 games — roughly a quarter of their season — and currently sit right next to Minnesota, below Nashville, Phoenix, and waaaay below upstart Colorado, all teams which really can’t compare to the Ducks in terms of total talent on paper. Denial is a powerful force, and the Ducks were at the end of an East-coast road trip last night, but I’ve watched Anaheim play five times this season and in every game they’ve been completely disorganized defensively, their penalty killing — a discipline that doesn’t even require talent so much as effort and coaching — has been deplorable, they’ve taken constant lazy penalties (Getzlaf barely even moved his feet last night), and for the most part, have appeared content to rely on their giant dudes’ giantness to just somehow result in enough down-low cycling to generate enough goals and possession to result in wins. It hasn’t.
This puts the Ducks in an extremely unenviable position, and one with which us Pens fans were all too familiar a season ago: They probably have to fire their coach. The extenuating problem in the Ducks’ case, however, is that Randy Carlyle already coached their team to a Stanley Cup victory and has kept them competitive every season in his tenure, including a first-round upset victory over the Sharks in last year’s playoffs. The Pens had a hard enough time firing Michel Therrien after he lead the team to a Finals appearance (and an equally improbable playoff berth the year before), and now the Ducks are supposed to turn on a coach who’s been nothing but effective since the day he arrived? AND the team’s formerly-suspended owner Henry Samueli was just re-instated by the NHL; how would it look if his first major act after his reinstatement was cutting loose the most successful coach in the team’s history?
For these reasons, I don’t expect the Ducks to fire Carlyle any time soon, but honestly, which scenario is more likely:
1) Despite keeping the same players and coaches, the Ducks miraculously start caring, playing great defense, solving their penalty kill, and make a run in the West.
2) The Ducks’ talented bunch continues their malaise, their front office continues to weather questions about Carlyle’s job security and Scott Niedermayer trade rumors, and no action is taken until they’re even more buried in an extremely rough conference.
Maybe it’ll take a 35-1 loss to the Maple Leafs for the Ducks’ GM to ultimately pull the trigger on a coaching change, but right now, it’s just impossible to watch Anaheim play and not believe Randy Carlyle has fallen into the sad but true “do we really have to fire this coach we love?” NHL state. I’m sure he’ll get a job with another team and have success in the future, but unless he’s secretly Lindy Ruff wearing a Mission Impossible rubber mask, he’s hit the inevitable NHL coach wall.
As for the Pens’ 5-2 victory, it was nice to see Jordan Staal get on the board, Deryk Engelland and the WBS defensive corps continue to perform as non-liabilities and occasional defensive sparks, Fleury played pretty well, and despite a few lazy defensive breakdowns brought upon by the Ducks’ lack of effort lulling the Pens into a false sense of security, the Penguins had this game in hand from the first period on.
And, lo and behold, the Pens even scored a power play goal, improving their PP to 1 for [ERROR: NUMBER TOO HIGH TO DEFINE] over the past month.