The Anaheim Ducks took nearly one month to put together two wins in a row. They finally did that with a come from behind overtime win over a tough Tampa Bay team and a victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had Sidney Crosby doing his best to carry his team.
Taking two steps forward in a row is positive progress for a team that has been both good and bad. Scratch that. At times they have been horrible.
Have they finally found the key needed for success?
"I think the most important thing that we have to reflect back on in last night's hockey game was our start," said coach Randy Carlyle after defeating Tampa Bay. "We had a decent start. That's really the key. You aren't going to have a good game if you don't have a good start. Sometimes it takes you a while to get it going, but our hockey club cannot afford to have a bad start. We are looking for more of those starts in the upcoming games."
The Ducks had a strong, passionate start to their game against the Penguins, a team that you cannot afford to fall behind. Struggling or not, the Penguins have the ability to burn you and after a complete stinker of a game against Dallas, where Crosby took on a fighting role rather than scoring, you knew they wanted to rebound.
"They aren't going to be a happy group," observed Carlyle. "I think they're always dangerous."
The Ducks had a 3-0 lead over the Penguins, but even that kind of lead is not insurmountable. In prior games, Anaheim has blown leads. Crosby came back with two goals, but it was not enough.
"We gave ourselves a chance," said Crosby. "It was a better game. Tonight we wanted to bounce back. Our efforts need to be like that. That's why we need to be consistent, because you can't not give yourself a chance to win."
The Ducks are also struggling to find that consistency. Both the Penguins and Ducks have identical records at one game under the .500 mark with a 6-7-1 record. It shows there is room for plenty of improvement.
"We're looking to build, more than anything, for confidence-sake," veteran Todd Marchant commented. "We are capable, when we play our game, to play with the best teams in this league. A lot of times these are things that go a long way and snowball in the right direction."
So far this season, every win has been a one-goal victory with the exception of a 5-2 defeat over Dallas. The Ducks will have to continue to hold on and eke out victories.
Being able to string together two wins is a starting point.
"Hopefully we've found our stride and we can go from here," said Bobby Ryan. "I think we've recognized the situation. We had some points that got away from us in the past few. This one was important for us."
Right now, all the points are important. Everything is very tight in the Western Conference, with only five points separating the Los Angeles Kings, who are first, and the Ducks, who are 11th. Every win or loss can move you significantly in the standings, as the Ducks have found out. Two wins have moved the Ducks from 14th to 11th and put them ahead of San Jose and Phoenix in the Pacific Division after being in last place.
The Ducks can ill afford to be slow learners and take another step backward after working so hard to get to this point.
They also have to realize there is much work to be done.
"We haven't been enamored with positives this year," said Carlyle bluntly. "We haven't felt very good about ourselves and rightfully so. Our record indicates that. Hopefully this is a starting point for our group. There are areas in our game that we're much better at, but there is still some cleaning up to do."
Despite the cleaning up needed, such a reducing turnovers, improving in the face-off circle, limiting opponents shots on goal, not allowing the opposition to gain momentum, the Ducks do know one thing for sure. Have a good start.
If having a good start is the key, they need to take that key and put it in the ignition right from the first face-off. Too often the Ducks have stalled out, unable to jump start their game until the second or third period, and by then it is too late.
As the Ducks have seen, a good start has a better chance of finishing with a win. Don't lose the key now and don't let up on the gas.