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Anaheim Ducks need to break penalty-taking habits to snap out of slump

Oct 13, 2010, 9:54 PM EDT

Bobby Ryan, Dan Boyle

The Anaheim Ducks are no strangers to taking a lot of penalties and starting their seasons a little bit slow.

Just take a look at the last three seasons and you’ll notice that only the Philadelphia Flyers can compare to the Ducks when it comes to making trips to the penalty box:

Most penalties taken 2009-10
1. Flyers – 496
2. Lightning – 492
3. Ducks – 482

Most penalties taken 08-09
1. Flyers and Ducks tied for first place – 535
2. Canucks – 504

Most penalties taken 07-08
1. Ducks – 564
2. Flyers – 546

Of course, there’s one major difference between the 07-08 and 08-09 Ducks and the most recent additions of the team: they no longer employ the kind of elite defensemen who can off-set their own self-inflicted gaffes. Chris Pronger took his feisty but dominant defensive style to Philadelphia in a trade during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft while Scott Niedermayer won’t be able to patch up any more mistakes after retiring this summer. The team also lost somewhat solid support defensemen including Francis Beachemin and James Wisniewski over the years.

Without that elite defense, the mental errors of their best forwards (Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) and the rough-and-tumble reputation of the team partially explaisn just how much trouble the Ducks cause for themselves. Coach Randy Carlyle wants his team to play smart hockey after years of borderline-meat-head behavior, especially when it comes to the team’s penalty minute logging stars.

Part of the reason is that wingers Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are leading the team in penalty minutes — each has 23 — instead of in scoring. Ryan Getzlaf, recently appointed the captain, has allowed his frustration to outweigh the need to lead by example. That must stop too. Carlyle said he talked to his top forwards about holding their tempers and not avenging hits that might be hard but aren’t dirty.

“I don’t know where it’s gotten in the league now where a clean body check or a heavy body check is delivered in the game, it seems like there’s an automatic response. And we’ve been guilty of responding too many times to clean body checks,” Carlyle said. “Our message is that we don’t want … Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan dropping their gloves in consecutive games.

“You do it to defend your honor and if somebody challenges you in doing so, but to be out there and playing in a 3-1 hockey game with a chance to get back into it with one power play or if one bounce goes your way, it’s not the right thing to do, to take yourself off the ice because somebody says something to you. And the opposition is doing a good job of goading them into those things too. That’s something that we’ve talked about and has to be corrected right now.”

The Ducks haven’t just lost their first games, they’ve been absolutely bludgeoned. While it’s incredibly foolish to lay all the blame at the feet of Carlyle, you wonder if there might be a few murmurs that old dogs cannot learn new tricks. After multiple seasons in which team captain Getzlaf and premier pest Perry have been able to lose their cool in more than a handful of games, will the same coach who looked the other way be able to impress upon them the need to change?

Anaheim begins their home schedule tonight against the Vancouver Canucks and Carlyle is known for being a little better when he’s allowed to dictate matchups when he gets the final change at home. Few would doubt that the Stanley Cup winning coach’s head is approaching the chopping block, so this is about as big as the fourth game of an 82-game regular season can be.

One thing’s for certain: Carlyle’s outlook will improve considerably if he can keep his best players out of the box.

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