After 10 seasons as a Vancouver Canuck, Kevin Bieksa knew that life on The Pond was going to be different when he found himself in Anaheim.
“It’s good, now. But it took some time for sure,” the Ducks defenceman said. “You meet guys that you battled against over the years and find out quickly, they’re very similar to you. Guys you hated, you build friendships with.”
The transition on the ice hasn’t been as smooth. Bieksa is playing 22:04 per night — third among Ducks defencemen and only two seconds less than 21-year-old stud Hampus Lindholm — but like the rest of the Ducks, his offence has been nonexistent with just four assists and no goals.
“This is the longest I’ve gone (without a goal) since my first year, 11 years ago,” said Bieksa, 34. “Everyone has to look at themselves first, and I look at myself. I should be putting in five to 10 goals (a season) for sure, especially with the scenarios I play in and the ice time I get.”
It must be said: There is some concern around the level of Bieksa’s game in Anaheim, especially after a sub-par final season in Vancouver last year, much of that due to being injured. Bieksa’s game slipped and there was talk of an abdominal problem in Vancouver, but Anaheim gave him a two-year, $8 million extension anyhow which kicks in next season.
Bieksa, it was hoped, would pick up the slack left by the departure of veteran Francois Beauchemin. “They’re both totally different guys, but both solid veterans that we rely on heavily,” said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “He’s playing 22 minutes a night. So far he’s done all right.”
Bieksa has been a warrior his entire career, a fifth-round pick in 2001 that clawed and scrapped his way to a 633-game NHL career thus far. With that, however, there are a lot miles on the odometer. We’ll watch with interest to see if Bieksa can avoid the rapid decline that befell players like Andrew Ference or Wade Redden, or if he can regain form over the rest of this season.
The Ducks, meanwhile, are the only team in the NHL averaging less than two goals per game this season (1.89), coming off a pair of 1-0 wins in Alberta. Last season Anaheim ranked 11th (2.78) in goals per game, so they’re down nearly an entire goal per 60 minutes of hockey. In a 3-2 league there are obvious ramifications from being the team that scores two per night, as opposed to being the team that scores three.
“We know we’re going to score goals. There are too many goals in the locker room to begin with,” said Shawn Horcoff, who added the Ducks have turned to focusing on their team defence in the interim. “When (the goals) do come, we’re going to be a real tough team.”
It’s like Anaheim has turned into the L.A. Kings, and the Kings have turned into Anaheim, at least offensively.
“Stupid isn’t it?” Boudreau said. “You do what you have to do to win, right?”
ZACK IS BACK
One more note on Bieksa. He smiled when Zack Kassian’s name came up as a future Edmonton Oiler.
“There’s value there. He’s a good player if he can put it all together,” Bieksa said of his old Canucks teammate. “He’s had a long road with a lot of bumps and bruises. I tried to help him. I think he’s a good kid at heart.”
You know that Bieksa and the Sedins all took Kassian by the hand at one point in Vancouver, to no avail. Sometimes a guy just has to make his own mistakes. “I think we did a good job as a leadership group. You can’t make someone do things they don’t want to do,” Bieksa said.
WORKING IN A COAL MINE
Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom has brought back one of our favourite old zebras in retired referee Paul Devorski, who began life as a Supervisor of Officials on Dec. 1. The league needs to hire three full-time referees for next season, and have a few young refs working now. Devorski will mentor that group from press boxes around the league, putting his 1,594 NHL games of experience to work.
CRUNCH TIME IN WINNIPEG
Two things are coming over the horizon in Winnipeg: The return of goalie Ondrej Pavelec, which will make a crowded house in the Jets crease, and a spate of games against Central Division opponents that could make or break the Jets’ season.
Pavelec is on the road with the Jets, meaning his return from a knee injury is imminent. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Connor Hellebuyck has had 11 NHL starts and posted seven wins, a goals-against average of 2.11 and a save percentage of .926. Backup Michael Hutchinson, 25, is probably part of the Jets future tandem with Hellebuyck when Pavelec’s contract expires after next season, so they don’t want to lose Hutchinson on waivers. It’s a bit of a conundrum for Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Meanwhile, the Jets season could be decided before the All-Star break, if they don’t find a way to improve on a mediocre 6-13-1 road record, not to mention a 3-10 mark against the Central Division. Winnipeg plays half of its 12 January games against divisional opponents. They’re seven points out of a playoff spot after opening a five-game road trip with a 4-2 loss at Arizona, the easiest stop on this roadie for the Jets. If that grows even by a point or two by the All-Star break, you could see the Jets approach the Trade Deadline as a seller.
A lot of people have been waiting to see when Darnell Nurse would drop the gloves in the NHL the way he did so many times in junior. When it finally happened, even Nurse’s opponent had kind words for the Edmonton rookie after his first tilt versus big Milan Lucic this past week.
“He said, ‘Good job,’’’ said Nurse, who couldn’t have picked a tougher customer to break his maiden against. “I wasn’t going in there blind. I knew who it was and what I was getting into, but you have to have a little trust in yourself. I’m not afraid of that stuff.”
Lucic had drilled Lauri Korpikoski, and to Nurse’s credit he didn’t request a fight from Lucic, he stood in his face and demanded it.
“My Mom was like, ‘What are you doing?’ My dad said he was proud of me,” Nurse laughed. “This (fighting) is something I’m going to have to do, the way I play.”
Nurse is looking like he’s going to be a very good defenceman for a long, long time. He has size (6-foot-4), can skate the puck and shoots it well. With the mean streak he becomes a four-tool defenceman at age 20, and fighting Lucic will earn him some quick stripes across the NHL.
“That’s what Lucic did when he came into the league at that age,” said teammate Matt Hendricks. “I have a lot of respect for what he did.
“Lucic is a tough opponent for sure. Not a lot tougher.”