Ducks take defense-first approach

Ducks take defense-first approach

Published Jan. 17, 2012 2:00 p.m. ET

A team that still gives up three goals per game on average can't be considered one that's exactly airtight on the defensive side of the ice.

But Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has preached improvement in their own end throughout his six weeks on the job and it seems as if the message is now taking hold. After an impressive 4-2 win Sunday night over the Vancouver Canucks, the Ducks have allowed only 11 goals during their 5-0-1 spurt and Cam Fowler said there's "a little more intensity on our side" in their own end.

"I think when Bruce came here, that was one of the things that he preached," Fowler said. "It's an old cliche but the best teams have the best defense and that turns into offense. For us, I think we have enough team speed where we can just kind of smother the puck and get two or three guys in there at one time. And I think we're doing a better job of that."

Boudreau said the team has simply become more responsible when play is in their end.

"I think we're taking a little bit more pride in our defense," he said. "When you do that, hopefully you don't allow as many goals. The other thing is when we first got here, I would watch on TV and there was an awful lot of giveaways through the middle of the ice. I've really tried to eliminate that. That's probably the biggest thing we've eliminated."

Fowler said one key philosophical change under Boudreau is the Ducks going away from the aggressive puck pressure system in their end, particularly up high in the zone.

"Being a little more lower in the defensive zone," said Francois Beauchemin, who is a plus-7 over the last six games. "Having our wingers really tight in the box. When you have five guys around below the top of the circles, it really limits the other team's chances.

"If the puck ends up going to the point, we really go out in the shooting lanes. We're really trying not to give them much to shoot at."

Fowler said he thinks the idea that Boudreau is all about attacking and pumping up the offense is a misnomer.

"Even though he had that perception that he was an offensive coach and he just kind of let the guys go, every coach in this league preaches defense because they know it's the most important thing," he said. "I think in Washington, you had a lot of guys that liked to play that style of hockey and I think maybe that's why people had that idea.

"Since he's come here, from day one he's had that defensive mindset. But at the same time, he wants guys to be creative offensively. He doesn't put any reins on you that way. He knows that we have guys that can make plays and can get creative with the puck. The main thing for him is being responsible defensively first."

   --Throughout Randy Carlyle's six-plus seasons as coach, the Ducks regularly finished at or near the top of the NHL in penalty minutes. Some of that reflects the Ducks' personnel over the years and their willingness to drop the gloves. But the mandate that coach Bruce Boudreau has laid out is to cut down the number of trips to the penalty box. The message appears to be sinking in. The Ducks have had to kill off three or fewer penalties in eight of their last nine games and 14 of 18 contests since Boudreau's debut as coach when they took 11 minor penalties and had to face nine Philadelphia power plays.
   "I don't like a team that is in the penalty box all day," Boudreau said. "You don't get your best players on the ice in offensive situations. It makes it very difficult to win."
   --His numbers are still far below what he's shown over his four NHL seasons but the Ducks' Jonas Hiller may be turning up his game halfway into the 2011-12 season. In three starts since sitting out Tuesday's game against Dallas, Hiller has stopped 72 of 75 shots. And there have a few notable saves as he stoned Calgary's Jarome Iginla twice on Thursday and foiled Edmonton's Taylor Hall on a point-blank chance in the first period Friday.
   "He's been really good since he got a couple of days off with his little injury," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "If he's sharp, the goaltending makes all the difference in the world. It can make a team that might not have played great look a lot better."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're jumping on it. We're hoping it's springing us. It's something where we think we've gotten better every game. To give up three goals on this trip and to start scoring four and five goals a game. ... We're a long ways away. But we're making headway. To say anything like, 'Oh yeah, we're in the hunt yet', it would be really out there. It's nice to be able to say we're competing with every team we're playing against." -- Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, when asked whether the team's 4-2 win over Vancouver to finish off a successful road trip is a springboard to their season.

   --C Nick Bonino scored his third goal of the season in the Ducks' win over Vancouver. Bonino's fourth career goal was his first in seven games. The second-year player has had a regular spot in the lineup since being recalled for the minors on Dec. 17.
   --LW Jason Blake had two goals and one assist for his first three-point game since March 31, 2010 at Colorado when he had a goal and four assists for a career-high tying five points. It was Blake's first two-goal game since March 16, 2011 against St. Louis.
   --D Francois Beauchemin played a team-high 24 minutes, 53 seconds and was a plus-1 on the night. Beauchemin is a plus-7 over his last six games. Overall, the veteran is averaging nearly 26 minutes of ice time per night and is a minus-2 for the season.
   --LW Bobby Ryan got a goal and an assist against Vancouver to continue his offensive surge. Ryan, whose 17 goals are second on the team behind Corey Perry, has seven goals and four assists in his last 11 contests.
   -- G Jonas Hiller made 21 saves against Vancouver and is 2-0-1 with a .962 save percentage -- 72 saves in 75 shots faced -- along with a 0.99 goals-against average since he returned to the net after missing one start because of a knee injury. Hiller is 3-0-1 over his last five games with a 1.38 goals-against average.  

   --RW Devante Smith-Pelly is back in Anaheim to do his rehab after breaking a bone in his left foot on Dec. 26 while playing for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships. Smith-Pelly was injured while blocking a shot and is expected to be out of action for up to six weeks.
   --G Dan Ellis revealed that he has a tear of his groin muscle and his original timetable of four weeks is "on the low end." Ellis has had a groin issue throughout the season but he aggravated it during a practice last week.

   -- Jonas Hiller
   -- Jeff Deslauriers

   -- Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler
   -- Luca Sbisa, Lubomir Visnovsky
   -- Toni Lydman, Sheldon Brookbank

   --LW Bobby Ryan, C Ryan Getzlaf, RW Corey Perry

   --LW Niklas Hagman, C Saku Koivu, RW Teemu Selanne

   --LW Jason Blake, C Nick Bonino, RW Andrew Cogliano

   --LW Matt Beleskey, C Rod Pelley, RW George Parros