ANAHEIM, Calif. – By the time the Anaheim Ducks finished with them late Wednesday night, Vancouver had a humiliating 9-1 loss and four players in the dressing room after they tried to start fights out of pure frustration.
It’s an awfully tough time to face the NHL’s best team, as the beleaguered Canucks will attest once they recover from the thrashing. The Ducks reign atop the league at 36-8-5 after winning 18 of their last 19 games, including eight straight, during one of the most dominant runs in league history.
It’s even tougher to visit Honda Center, where Anaheim has gone 20-0-2 with 10 straight wins to match the NHL’s longest season-opening home points streak in 34 years.
“We know we’ve got a good team,” Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “But we also know we can’t stop proving it.”
Out in sunny Southern California, thousands of miles away from hockey’s traditional spotlights, the Ducks have soared to the best start in their two-decade history—even better than in their Stanley Cup campaign in 2006-07. They’ve built a 13-point lead in the tough Pacific Division, and they even lead the defending champion Blackhawks by six points heading into their showdown in Chicago on Friday.
With four quality scoring lines led by Getzlaf and Corey Perry in front of a versatile defence and Jonas Hiller’s standout goaltending, the dynamic Ducks have lost just once since Dec. 3.
“It’s pretty amazing what we’ve done,” said 43-year-old Teemu Selanne, who scored two goals against the Canucks. “Everything we do is building the confidence we’re going to need down the road.”
Sure, the Ducks realize their 49-game start means nothing without the playoff success that has eluded the franchise since 2007. They’re still taking quiet satisfaction in the NHL’s longest run of one-loss play since the 1967-68 Montreal Canadiens won a record 20 of 21.
“We’re not getting too excited about it,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I’ve been in this position before, and when you don’t come out with the Holy Grail, people don’t really care what happened in the regular season. Our goal is to be the best in the regular season, and hopefully it carries on into the playoffs, and we’re the best there.”
The Ducks have surpassed last season’s remarkable turnaround under Boudreau, who has built another powerhouse after four years of regular-season success in Washington.
Anaheim finished second in the West last spring after missing the playoffs in 2012, but the Ducks lost to Detroit in the first round when they couldn’t overcome the playoff-tested Red Wings’ post-season grit.
“I think we’re more equipped for this now,” said Perry, the NHL’s second-leading goal-scorer after getting his 26th and 27th against Vancouver. “We knew what we wanted to do this season.”
Although Boudreau warns his players against reading or hearing about their success, new superlatives pop up after every victory: The Ducks have scored the most goals (166) and allowed the fewest (116) through 49 games in club history.
Hiller is on a personal 14-game winning streak, matching the second-longest single-season run in NHL history. He’s helped by a defence that has been surprisingly effective despite the long-term injury absences of several expected regulars, including Sheldon Souray and Luca Sbisa.
But the Ducks are at their most sublime on offence, with Getzlaf and Perry both producing spectacular play in the first year of lucrative eight-season contract extensions. Forwards Andrew Cogliano, Nick Bonino, Dustin Penner and Mathieu Perreault are all having standout statistical seasons—and in an example of the Ducks’ balance, they’re usually playing on four different lines.
The Ducks realize they’re mathematically unlikely to keep rolling all the way to the post-season. They would have to beat Chicago and powerful St. Louis in back-to-back road games this weekend to equal the 1968 Canadiens’ run, and the Olympic break poses a potential hazard to their groove.
But the Ducks will enjoy this run for as long as it lasts before the chance to turn their attention to a post-season run at a second Stanley Cup title for Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne.
“I’ve seen a lot of great teams peak early, but if you go through a bad time, then you still know what you’ve got,” Boudreau said. “People say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to have some adversity to fight through it.’ If you don’t mind, I don’t want to lose five or six in a row.”