Ed Willes: Murray aims to pluck foul from the fowl as aging Ducks try to regroup

“It’s kind of a fresh start for everyone right now. We can’t worry about what happened the first four months of the season. We have to worry about this final stretch.”

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Bob Murray looked at this team and didn’t know what he was seeing.

Sure, the names and faces were familiar: Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, his guys, the core of a team that went to Game 6 of the Western Conference Final two years ago. But, since mid-December, they’d won two games in 21 starts and were still relevant only because of the comprehensive ineptitude in the West.

So Murray had to find out if it was still there — if the DNA of a winning team still existed in the Ducks — and he couldn’t make that determination from his office.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said Wednesday as he prepared to coach his first NHL game after five decades in the NHL as a player and executive. And why his close friend Randy Carlyle isn’t.

“I’m trying to figure out if it’s there,” said Murray, the Ducks’ longtime GM, in advance of Wednesday’s meeting with the Canucks. “That’s why I’ve done this. I’m watching and watching and waiting and I didn’t see it. So then I start questioning myself about my own guys.

“That’s when I said, that’s enough. I’ve got to go see where it is, and where better to see it than right in the trenches with them.”

Heading into Wednesday’s affair, the Ducks were riding a confounding 2-15-4 stretch that has dropped them from their usual playoff berth to last place in the West. That was disturbing enough for Murray, but the bigger picture — goalie John Gibson, the team’s most indispensable player, is out with a suspected concussion; veteran stalwarts Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry have been gutted by injuries — is equally bleak.

How bad is it in Orange County? Against the Canucks, the Ducks’ starting goalie is Kevin Boyle, nominally the organization’s fourth netminder, who’s making his first NHL start because of injuries to Gibson and Chad Johnson.

Old friend Ryan Miller, who’s just back from missing 24 games with a sprained MCL, serves as Boyle’s backup.

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The Anaheim Ducks have to “take it personally” that longtime head coach Randy Carlyle got fired over the team’s poor performance, says Ryan Kesler.

Jae C. Hong /

AP

“If you don’t take it personally then you shouldn’t be playing the game,” Kesler said. “It sucks to lose a guy like (Carlyle), a coach like that. But we have to move on.

“It’s kind of a fresh start for everyone right now. We can’t worry about what happened the first four months of the season. We have to worry about this final stretch.”

Kesler, of course, is one of the players who can use a fresh start. In 48 games this season, the former Canuck has a 4-2-6 scoring line that includes one assist over his last 35 games. By way of comparison, Max Comtois went 2-5-7 in 10 games with the Ducks before he was sent back to junior.

In June of 2017, Kesler had the second hip surgery of his career and played just 44 games last season. He also carries a $6.75-million cap hit this season. Kesler was asked how he’d describe his health.

“I don’t like to talk about it,” he said.

But he’s not the only Ducks veteran struggling with the ravages of time. Perry had MCL surgery just before the start of the season and has played five games in 2018-19. Ryan Getzlaf, meanwhile, has been relatively healthy by the standards of his two teammates, missing five games early in the season with a groin issue.

But he also has 36 points in 50 games and he’s minus-21.

Maybe that’s the Ducks’ problem. If this was 2015, they’d have a helluva team. In 2019, not so much.

“It wasn’t an easy day the other day,” Perry said of Carlyle’s firing. “It’s tough. That’s on us in this dressing room.

“But there are lot of leaders in this room and a lot of guys who’ve been through different things in their careers. At the same time, it’s all about work ethic, it’s all about passion, it’s all about caring about the people in this room and doing your job.”

Carlyle, for his part, declined an interview request via text.

“Just trying to figure things out,” he wrote.

He has some company there.

“I had him when I was 19 (with the Manitoba Moose in Kesler’s first year of pro), and I had him when I was 33,” Kesler said. “He’s seen me at both ends of my career. It’s too bad we couldn’t get a couple of wins for him.

“We have to play to our strengths and get back to our identity. Just be hard to play against. We all know that is in this room, now we have to do it.”

Which sounds simple enough, but that’s assuming they can still get it done.

ewilles@postmedia.com

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