Anaheim Ducks need to break penalty-taking habits to snap out of slump

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The Anaheim Ducks are no strangers to taking a lot of penalties and starting their seasons a little bit slow.

Just take a look at the last three seasons and you’ll notice that only the Philadelphia Flyers can compare to the Ducks when it comes to making trips to the penalty box:

Most penalties taken 2009-10
1. Flyers – 496
2. Lightning – 492
3. Ducks – 482

Most penalties taken 08-09
1. Flyers and Ducks tied for first place – 535
2. Canucks – 504

Most penalties taken 07-08
1. Ducks – 564
2. Flyers – 546

Of course, there’s one major difference between the 07-08 and 08-09 Ducks and the most recent additions of the team: they no longer employ the kind of elite defensemen who can off-set their own self-inflicted gaffes. Chris Pronger took his feisty but dominant defensive style to Philadelphia in a trade during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft while Scott Niedermayer won’t be able to patch up any more mistakes after retiring this summer. The team also lost somewhat solid support defensemen including Francis Beachemin and James Wisniewski over the years.

Without that elite defense, the mental errors of their best forwards (Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) and the rough-and-tumble reputation of the team partially explaisn just how much trouble the Ducks cause for themselves. Coach Randy Carlyle wants his team to play smart hockey after years of borderline-meat-head behavior, especially when it comes to the team’s penalty minute logging stars.

Part of the reason is that wingers Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are leading the team in penalty minutes — each has 23 — instead of in scoring. Ryan Getzlaf, recently appointed the captain, has allowed his frustration to outweigh the need to lead by example. That must stop too. Carlyle said he talked to his top forwards about holding their tempers and not avenging hits that might be hard but aren’t dirty.

“I don’t know where it’s gotten in the league now where a clean body check or a heavy body check is delivered in the game, it seems like there’s an automatic response. And we’ve been guilty of responding too many times to clean body checks,” Carlyle said. “Our message is that we don’t want … Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan dropping their gloves in consecutive games.

“You do it to defend your honor and if somebody challenges you in doing so, but to be out there and playing in a 3-1 hockey game with a chance to get back into it with one power play or if one bounce goes your way, it’s not the right thing to do, to take yourself off the ice because somebody says something to you. And the opposition is doing a good job of goading them into those things too. That’s something that we’ve talked about and has to be corrected right now.”

The Ducks haven’t just lost their first games, they’ve been absolutely bludgeoned. While it’s incredibly foolish to lay all the blame at the feet of Carlyle, you wonder if there might be a few murmurs that old dogs cannot learn new tricks. After multiple seasons in which team captain Getzlaf and premier pest Perry have been able to lose their cool in more than a handful of games, will the same coach who looked the other way be able to impress upon them the need to change?

Anaheim begins their home schedule tonight against the Vancouver Canucks and Carlyle is known for being a little better when he’s allowed to dictate matchups when he gets the final change at home. Few would doubt that the Stanley Cup winning coach’s head is approaching the chopping block, so this is about as big as the fourth game of an 82-game regular season can be.

One thing’s for certain: Carlyle’s outlook will improve considerably if he can keep his best players out of the box.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.