To the surprise of no one, Ducks all-everything D Scott Niedermayer decided he wasn't ready to skate into the sunset. His Dec. 16 return to the ice has been a boost to the defending champs while drawing a painful sigh from the other 29 teams. Which seems justified: Without Niedermayer the Ducks were a mediocre 15-15-4. With him they are a revitalized 4-1-1 and have allowed just 10 goals.
Still, thoughts of another Cup run are premature. While rock solid in their own zone, the Ducks are suspect on offense. Minus the team's top three goal scorers from last season—Teemu Selanne (48), Dustin Penner (29) and Andy McDonald (27)—Anaheim's 2.40 gpg ranks 27th in the NHL and is down nearly a full goal from last year's 3.1 average.
The problem: an unbalanced attack. In the team's first 39 games, the Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Chris Kunitz line combined for 45 goals. The other 17 forwards managed just 32. Specifically, says GM Brian Burke, "we've been playing without second-line scoring."
Enter top prospect Bobby Ryan, freshly recalled from the AHL and skating on a line with Kunitz and newly acquired veteran C Doug Weight. The second pick behind Sidney Crosby in the 2005 draft, Ryan made the club in camp but earned a ticket back to the minors after four unproductive games.
"I'm much more comfortable now," says the 20-year-old New Jersey native. And the two Yanks (Weight grew up in Michigan) seem to have found some quick chemistry. In their first game together, a 2-1 loss to the Sharks on Dec. 17, Weight set up Ryan for his second career goal. Four games later, Ryan returned the favor, dishing to Weight, who netted the gamer against the Oilers.
The 6'2'', 215-pound Ryan is also getting tips from power forward Todd Bertuzzi, who's trying to find his own form after a concussion sidelined him for 14 games. "Todd plays a similar game," Ryan says. "His comments about body positioning have been helpful." With Niedermayer back, a strong D has become even stronger. If a colt like Ryan and old warhorses like Weight and Bertuzzi provide punch, the Ducks can think about hitching up the wagon for a victory parade.