- Terry Frei, Special to ESPN.com
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The Ducks have three consecutive losses, extending a streak of frustration that has produced a 5-11-2 record over their last 18 games.
Frustrated by not-ready-for-the-marquee goalies Mike Smith (yes, the Mike Smith, not the jockey or the former NHL general manager) and Peter Budaj in consecutive shutout defeats at Dallas and Colorado, the Ducks haven't scored a goal in over a week. In ice time, the dry spell has been 139 minutes and 16 seconds.
As of Thursday morning, Anaheim had fallen not only out of the Western Conference's No. 1 spot, but the Ducks also are in danger of losing the Pacific Division lead. That's significant because a runner-up finish in the division likely would produce a formidable first-round matchup with the Red Wings.
On Josh Brewster's post-game radio call-in show on Anaheim's flagship station, the Ducks have been roasted of late. You half expect Scott Niedermayer to call in on the way home from a game -- "Long-time listener, first-time caller and, yes, I am using a hands-free device" -- to defend his beleaguered brother, Rob Neidermayer, who is making $2 million this season and seems to have become the Southlands fan target, the equivalent of a Maple Leafs winger who hasn't scored for a month.
In his last four losses, Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been supported by a grand total of -- let's add them up -- zero Anaheim goals. Even if they rebound Thursday night at Phoenix, the Ducks can't be pronounced to have made an instant recovery.
Chris Pronger has been back in the lineup for nearly three weeks. Francois Beauchemin has been back for over two weeks after missing 11 games with a lacerated spleen (ouch). Scott Niedermayer is back after missing the All-Star Game and three Ducks games with a foot injury, as well. Ilya Bryzgalov and Giguere are again healthy at the same time, reuniting one of the better tandems in the league.
Yet the slide has continued. The start -- four regulation losses in the first 37 games -- is history.
Uh, hold off on planning the Stanley Cup parade, Mr. Disney. If the Ducks keep playing this way, that's Fantasyland.
So are the wheels falling off?
"No, there's lots of hockey left," said Scott Niedermayer. "We still have a great group here. It's a tough stretch, but it's a great challenge. We played well at the beginning of the year, and expectations are at a certain place, and when it's not going that way, it's up to us to turn it around and get it back going that way.
"There are little breakdowns, and we have to try and remain solid for the whole game. There are still a lot of games to be played, and we can't really look at that right now. We just want to be able to hit the ice playing as well as we can to give ourselves a chance to win that night."
Pronger preferred to put a positive spin on the skid.
"At this stage of the game, it's a test," Pronger said. "Everything that happens over the course of 82 games, the preseason and the playoffs is a test. It forces you to become a better team, to get better as a player. Certainly, we're going through a stretch here where we're testing ourselves."
So this "testing" isn't necessarily a bad thing?
"Absolutely, if you coast through the year, sometimes it doesn't end how you want it to end," Pronger said. "You certainly feel better about yourselves entering the playoffs if you're able to right the ship and figure out what the issues were, then overcome them. There are adversities you face throughout the year, and this is no different."
"We don't have the confidence we need to score right now. It's frustrating, but everything's in our own hands. ... This whole game is about confidence. This team doesn't have that right now."
-- Teemu Selanne on the Ducks' recent struggles
Pronger maintained the season "can be easily turned around." The issue, of course, is whether this is an aberrational period, a somewhat inevitable slump involving injuries and a loss of focus (as evidenced by too-many-men minors) rather than an indication that this is the real Anaheim.
The Ducks are going to be fine. Thanks to the soft Central Division, both the Predators and Wings have passed them in the conference, and, yes, they have looked shaky of late. Pronger and Scott Niedermayer at times seem as if they're not 100 percent, but they'll get back to it. It sure will help, though, if they can hang on to win the division and stay away from the Red Wings in the first round.
Primarily, though, they've got to get the puck in the net.
"The effort is there, but obviously, if you don't score the goals, you're not going to win the games," said a clearly frustrated Teemu Selanne, who has one goal in his last six games. "We have to do better and be smarter. This is too good of a hockey club to lose games like this."
The Ducks have gone 0-for-21 on the power play in February. Amazingly, despite that, they're still third in the NHL, at 20.4 percent, behind only San Jose and Montreal, respectively. And it's not as if their special teams stink – the Ducks are still fourth on the penalty kill behind only Vancouver, Nashville and Edmonton.
Lately, their promising young forwards -- Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Chris Kunitz – couldn't put the puck in the Pacific from the end of a Newport Beach pier. Maybe fatherly advice could help. As part of a league-wide trend, the team has brought the players' fathers in for a five-day stint with the boys in Phoenix and Anaheim.
"Obviously, the guys in this dressing room have to turn this around," said Selanne, whose father, Ilmari, came over from Finland. "We don't have the confidence we need to score right now. It's frustrating, but everything's in our own hands. That's the best thing about this now. This team needs a couple of good confidence games and get everyone involved in them. This whole game is about confidence. This team doesn't have that right now."
Coach Randy Carlyle said the recent problems have been "frustrating for everybody. We don't want to lose hockey games. We're here to win. That's our motto. Frustration? Frustration because we didn't score enough, there's frustration because we're working hard and not getting the results. But we have to work harder. We have to stay more to the game plan. We have more to give. We're going to continue to push for a higher level of execution. That's what we have to do."
And they will.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."