The Ducks will don their third different jersey in franchise history Friday afternoon against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. Seems like a good time for a change, considering they’ve played like two different teams through the first quarter of the season.
Are the Ducks the same group that won six consecutive games earlier this month? Or the team that’s currently riding a five-game losing streak?
The disparities aren’t difficult to identify.
"There’s another level that we’ve been playing to," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of the team’s recent slide. "It’s very simple, we just have to play harder."
Carlyle pointed out some flaws that have arisen during the current losing streak, such as players allowing themselves to get boxed out rather easily in front of the opponent’s net, or not fighting hard enough for the puck during one-on-one battles. Carlyle said he planned to show video to his players after practice Wednesday to point out their deficiencies.
"Our urgency needs to go up," he said. "Those are areas that are going to be improved upon."
The players recognize that they’ve lost some of their win-at-all-cost attitude.
"We need that swagger back," said forward Corey Perry, the team’s leading scorer with 23 points. "One good period, one good game, one good shift, it can all turn the momentum...we just need that spark."
After losing four of their first five games and then trading wins and losses the remainder of October, the Ducks got the push they needed in a 3-2 overtime victory against visiting Tampa Bay on Nov. 3. That set off a string of six straight victories, one shy of a franchise record.
"We played some good hockey to get us back in a good situation," said Ryan Getzlaf, third on the team with 21 points but goal-less in the last five games.
The Ducks (10-10-3) went on the road following a 4-2 victory against Dallas on Nov. 13, then saw their winning streak halted two days later against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, who scored the winning goal with 28 seconds remaining in overtime.
They’ve since lost at Dallas and Minnesota, and at home against Columbus and Edmonton, despite out-shooting the visitors, 90-54.
"We’ve been putting up a lot of shots but we’re not scoring any goals," Perry said. "We’ve got to find a way to score goals."
Three years after winning the Stanley Cup, the Ducks seem caught between rebuilding and contending. They have a core group of young players to build around. Getzlaf and Perry, the team’s leading scorers the last three seasons, are each just 25 years old, and Bobby Ryan, third among forwards in scoring the last two seasons, is 23.
Cam Fowlermade the team this season as an 18-year-old defenseman and is already drawing comparisons to a young Scott Niedermayer, who anchored the Ducks’ blue line for 4 ½ seasons before retiring this summer.
However, the Ducks also have seven players age 34 or older. Teemu Selanne re-signed a one-year deal this summer, shortly after turning 40. He hasn't played a full season since 2006-07 and is currently sidelined with a groin injury.
Trying to rebuild while retaining veterans for another playoff run can be a difficult tightrope to walk.
"With Scottie [Niedermayer] gone, it was a big turnover for our back end," Getzlaf said. "Filling those shoes, you’re not going to do it with one guy, so we’re in between a little bit, but we’re still pushing, we’re still contending."
The good news is more help is on the way.
Joffrey Lupul, who scored 53 points as a member of the Ducks in 2005-06, is close to returning from back surgery that sidelined him since last December. Lupul was traded away for defenseman Chris Pronger in July 2006, then traded back to the Ducks in June 2009 for Pronger, defenseman Luca Sbisa and two first-round draft picks.
"I’m just going to keep taking it day by day, but had no real setbacks," he said. "I feel good, I feel strong, I’m definitely confident that I can jump back in whenever we decide that date is."
Kyle Chipchura, a former first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, is expected to return to his fourth-line centering duties Friday. Chipchura has been sidelined since Oct. 30 with concussion symptoms.
A slight break in the schedule might also do Anaheim some good. For the first time this season, the Ducks are getting four days off between games. Carlyle didn’t have the team practice on Monday and Tuesday "just to kind of get away from this rink a little bit and kind of refreshen everybody."
Now, it’s just a matter of which team will show up against the Blackhawks.