The Anaheim Ducks were making fools of the prognosticators during a horrible start after being a sexy pick to win the Stanley Cup following last season's deep playoff run.
Goaltending and the NHL's best penalty kill have helped them regroup, though, and the hottest team in hockey is looking more like the contender many believed it was.
Anaheim seeks a seventh consecutive victory Monday night when it visits a Pittsburgh Penguins team also riding a hot streak with plenty of help from Sidney Crosby, who has put his own rough start behind him.
The Ducks (25-18-7) scored only 10 goals while going 1-7-2 in October and looked nothing like the 109-point Western Conference finalists from 2014-15. They still have the league's lowest-scoring offense, but they've outscored their last six opponents 25-12 after rolling Arizona 5-2 on Friday.
Corey Perry scored to give him four goals and three assists during the streak, while Patrick Maroon finished with a goal and two assists. Anaheim is three points ahead of the Coyotes for the Pacific Division's third and final automatic playoff berth, a striking turnaround from where it was following the season's first few weeks.
“In the beginning of the season, we had no confidence. But everyone is chipping in now, and everyone has confidence. Trust me,” Maroon said. “We have such a close team, so everyone picks each other up and everyone is here for each other.”
John Gibson got the night off after beating Los Angeles on Thursday. He leads the league with a 1.92 goals-against average, and Frederik Andersen has a 1.72 GAA in six starts and one relief appearance since Jan. 1.
The Ducks have allowed a power-play goal in each of their last two, but they've still killed off a league-best 89.1 percent of their penalties on the season.
“We've been scoring, but one big thing is we've been keeping teams to two goals or less,” said Hampus Lindholm, who also scored against Arizona. “We have to keep playing defensive hockey if we want to go somewhere.”
Perry and Chris Stewart scored and Gibson made 23 saves to give the Ducks a 2-1 win over the Penguins on Dec. 6, ending a four-game losing streak in the series. Crosby had an assist in that contest and looks to extend his point streak to 11 in the rematch.
The Pittsburgh captain has 10 goals and eight assists during his hot stretch and has 49 points in 50 games, a pace that seemed unlikely after he had just two goals and nine points through his first 18 games.
Crosby, who is tied with Evgeni Malkin for the team scoring lead, assisted on Kris Letang's third-period goal, tied the game 2-2 on his goal with 1:15 left in regulation and assisted on Letang's overtime tally in Saturday's 3-2 win over Florida.
Letang has eight goals and 16 assists over his last 16 contests for the Penguins (26-18-7), who have won five of six and are tied with New Jersey for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.
Crosby has six goals and five assists during a seven-game point streak against the Ducks.
“Those two guys put the team on their backs,” coach Mike Sullivan said of Crosby and Letang. “They raised their level at a critical time in the game. I thought those two guys were terrific.”
Marc-Andre Fleury should be back in net after getting Saturday off. He has a 3.17 GAA over his last eight but also has two shutouts in that span.