ANAHEIM – To call Corey Perry a name is to join a long line of those who already have.
To his Ducks teammates, Perry is referred to as “Worm” because of how he long has been able to slither his lanky, 6-foot-3 frame in and out of physical defenders for the coveted space around the net and create scoring chances. And often finish them.
To opponents and their fans, the winger has been called much worse, a good amount that cannot be printed and might make those not used to foul or unseemly language blush. It comes with the territory when he’s fighting for his on the ice, sometimes in sneaky – and, some would say, dirty – ways.
Another thing you could call Perry is Mr. Automatic. Forget about penciling him in for 30 goals each season. Go ahead and use ink. Address another area on the team.
But when the best-of-7 Western Conference first-round series begins Thursday night against Calgary, Perry finds himself looking at the postseason as one to find redemption. Redemption for past series that went unfulfilled and a 2016-17 regular season that never lived up to expectations.
Nineteen goals over 82 games. The fewest over a full 82-game season since getting 17 as a rookie, where he played in just 44 games with the Ducks. Players talk about the Stanley Cup playoffs as a new season and for Perry, that sentiment may not be any truer.
“This is where people make their names,” said Perry, who has hit the 30-goal mark six times and has 349 in all. “It’s a new season. Everybody starts fresh. There’s only 16 teams left and you want to be one of those 16 to start it off.”
Perry, 31, has long been a big name. A Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. A Stanley Cup won as a curly-haired youngster and a two-time Olympic gold medalist since. One of the best right wings in the game – and one who is now on the third line.
It has been that kind of season. Some of the longest scoring droughts of his career came in this one. He was stuck on nine goals as late as Feb. 7. His 8.8 shooting percentage is well off his career 13.2 mark, or even the 11.2 in 97 playoff games.
“I’ve said this all season,” Perry said. “I was getting my opportunities. I was getting my shots. Whatever you might call it – luck, puck luck, whatever it is – the thing wasn’t going in the net.
“Those things happen. You go through during a season, during your career, those things to happen. You just try to stay focused and try to focus on the positives.”
There are some the Ducks hope he can build on. Eight of his 19 goals came in the final 16 contests. His 34 assists and 53 points still ranked third on the team, to which Perry chuckled at the thought of putting his focus on setting teammates up.
And there aren’t many playoff teams that can feel comfortable about putting an accomplished scorer who still has his soft hands on their third line.
“He’s come in the second half here a little bit better,” Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf said. “Scored some goals for us later. In that aspect, I think everyone’s got to go through it at some point in their career. You just have one of those years where the puck’s not going in and the puck’s not finding you, those kinds of things.
“This happened to be the year for him. But luckily enough, he’s got his game back on track to some aspect. And we’re looking forward to see what he can do in the playoffs.”
There is work to do there. Some of the Ducks’ playoff fortunes can be directly or indirectly tied to Perry. Since the 2007 Cup season, Perry has accumulated 28 goals in four playoff runs that went beyond the first round. But no goals were found in the 2013 and 2016 first-round exits.
When Perry has done well in the postseason, it’s because he has started fast. In the 2015 run to the Western finals, the winger had two-goal, two-assist efforts in the opening games of series wins over Winnipeg and Calgary.
“It’s a new season,” Ducks center Ryan Kesler said. “He’s a great player. He can score goals. He’s done it in the past. He’s done it this year. It’s just a matter of time.”
Perry sits next to Getzlaf in the Ducks dressing room, as he has done for 12 seasons. But he’s looking up at Patrick Eaves these days, his usual top-line spot alongside Getzlaf now being filled by a trade acquisition that pumped in 11 goals since bringing the 21 he had from Dallas to Anaheim.
There have been other changes. Now he’s working on the power play’s second unit instead of being one to jump over the boards with the first unit. Getzlaf and Kesler have seen their ice time spike upward with Randy Carlyle back as coach, but not Perry.
It could make a proud player balk. Perry hasn’t hinted at any problem with that. “I’d never do that,” he said.
“He’s never going to make it an issue amongst the room,” Getzlaf said. “Pears has been around a long time and he’s not a selfish guy by any means. He went about his business in trying to get his name where he needed it to be.”
A six-time All-Star and former Norris Trophy winner who played into his mid-30s, Carlyle knows what it’s like when a top player may have to swallow his pride and accept a change in his role. The coach said those who last in the NHL must be “somewhat of a chameleon” and adjust their game over time.
“It’s a natural understanding of what the team needs,” Carlyle said. “It’s not about individual. In order for our team to have success, people are going to have to accept different roles and different places in the pecking order.
“For all of the things that have happened and the cheap authentic jerseys negativity that’s kind of drifted his way, I think that he’s still our third-leading point getter. He has started to score more frequently. He’s accepted the move away from Getzlaf. He’s a leader on our team. He comes and he plays hard every night.
“I defend the player in a lot of these situations because it’s not easy when the expectations were at a much higher level. But he still has delivered in his own way to our group.”
Perry said that is the way he operates.
“Obviously you want to be out there and you want to be doing those things,” he said. “When other guys are scoring and other guys are doing great things and the team’s winning, why change it?
That’s kind of been my philosophy my whole career. If things aren’t broken, don’t fix it.”
The numbers in this unusual season suggest that Corey Perry is headed toward being called a complementary player instead of a featured one. To the Ducks, the feisty scorer very much remains an important one.