ANAHEIM, Calif. – Bruce Boudreau and Daniel Winnik both think it’s pretty silly to get excited about the Ducks’ 2-0 start to the season.
That’s only because the coach and his improbably prolific goal-scorer are still new around Anaheim.
Ever since they raised the Stanley Cup a half-decade ago, the Ducks have made a tradition of getting buried in the standings just a few games into every season. The malaise from those starts usually lingered, forcing them to make desperate late-season pushes that sometimes fell short and never led to much playoff success.
So a 2-0 start—just the second in club history—really is something to celebrate in Orange County. The Ducks are determined to keep rolling when they finally play the NHL’s last home opener on Friday night against Vancouver, followed by a visit from Nashville on Saturday.
“If we don’t continue to move forward, we’re waking up Sunday morning and going, ‘Now we’re at .500,'” Boudreau said Thursday after the Ducks’ workout at Honda Center. “In a short season like this, every point, every goal is so vital.”
Indeed, in a 48-game season, every game is worth roughly double its usual importance in the standings—and the Ducks are capitalizing so far. Anaheim opened with 12 goals during two road victories in western Canada and returned for two valuable days of practice before the sold-out opener.
“We set a goal to get out to a good start, and we’re happy about it,” said captain Ryan Getzlaf, who has two goals in two games after getting a career-low 11 in 82 games last season. “There’s still a lot of work for us to do, because we didn’t play solid, solid hockey up there. We just scored a lot. We all know we’ve got a lot of things we still need to improve.”
The Ducks have started 3-0-0 just once in franchise history: In the 2006-07 season, when they won their only Stanley Cup championship. Ever since that surge, slow starts have become a tradition in Anaheim.
The list is daunting: Anaheim started 4-7-2 in the autumn after its title run, and they went 1-5-0 to kick off the 2008-09 season. The Ducks started 6-10-3 in the 2009-10 season, went 4-7-1 to begin the 2010-11 campaign, and then got off to a horrific 6-13-4 start last season, leading to coach Randy Carlyle’s firing and Boudreau’s arrival shortly after Thanksgiving.
Anaheim was the NHL’s fifth-best team after Jan. 1 last year, going 24-15-6, but missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons after falling into that huge hole. The Ducks entered this lockout-shortened season determined not to repeat their slow start, but the extra pressure hasn’t hurt so far.
“I’m not really surprised, because I think we knew we had a really good team,” said goalie Jonas Hiller, who has allowed just three even-strength goals in two games. “Last year, we were one of the league’s best teams in the second half. Now we’ve just got to show it all year long.”
While 42-year-old Teemu Selanne already has added two more goals to the 12th-biggest total in NHL history, Anaheim’s real scoring star is Winnik, the first player in Ducks history to start a season with multigoal games, getting two apiece in Vancouver and Calgary.
“I don’t think any player really scripts it that way,” Winnik said.
Winnik entered Thursday tied with Marian Hossa and Patrick Marleau for the NHL goal-scoring lead. He was even with those two stars, along with Thomas Vanek and Martin St. Louis, with five points atop the league scoring race. It’s unlikely territory for a former ninth-round draft pick who never scored more than 11 goals in any of his first five NHL seasons with Phoenix, Colorado and San Jose.
Winnik and his third-line teammates, Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano, also began the day leading the league with plus-5 ratings. Winnik and Cogliano have the same agent, and they train together in their native Toronto in the off-season, but Boudreau put them together because he thought their games would mesh well.
“It’s been a really easy group to gel with,” Winnik said. “It’s a very welcoming room. We’ve got a good mix of younger guys and older guys, and we’re just looking to build on what we’ve done so far.”