Ducks still lead their division, with healthy roster and restful schedule ahead

With only five games in the next 18 days, Ducks have time to mend and get even stronger

Coming off a loss to one of last season's Stanley Cup finalists, the Ducks still have reason for optimism.

They remain atop the Pacific Division, after all, with perhaps their healthiest roster of the season and plenty of rest ahead of them.

"Hopefully, we can keep this [good health] going through the rest of the year," said forward Kyle Palmieri, who overcame an off-season high ankle sprain that delayed his season debut until Nov. 16, then suffered a shoulder injury on Dec. 6 that sidelined him for six more games.

Because of a mumps outbreak and a variety of injuries, the Ducks marked their 200th lost-man game Wednesday, a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers. Defenseman Eric Brewer remained out with a fractured foot.

However, the Ducks are back to a roster of players close to what General Manager Bob Murray envisioned before the start of the season. And they have time to mend and get even stronger with only five games in the next 18 days.

The Ducks (26-10-6) next play on Sunday against Winnipeg at Honda Center.

"Obviously, it's good to have everyone back, a full lineup of guys competing for spots," said Palmieri, who in 18 games alongside Ryan Kesler and leading scorer Matt Beleskey has six goals and 10 points.

"Guys want to go out and play their best every day. You've got to constantly be proving yourself. If you're not, coach can make changes."

After goalie Frederik Andersen played in 26 of 27 games, Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau opted to start Ilya Bryzgalov, 34, an in-season free-agent pickup, against the Rangers.

Bryzgalov stopped 26 shots — some impressively — but was betrayed by turnovers by defensemen Sami Vatanen and Francois Beauchemin that led to two third-period goals. The Rangers' final goal was into an empty net.

Boudreau hinted at Wednesday's morning skate that the Ducks are weighing their backup goalie situation and would probably give Bryzgalov some spot starts while the team's other option in goal, 21-year-old John Gibson, plays regularly for minor league Norfolk.

Migration to San Diego?

The Ducks are pursuing a purchase of their Norfolk, Va., affiliate with the intent of moving the franchise to San Diego as part of a proposed American Hockey League Pacific Division.

A hockey official familiar with negotiations said the deal was "not done," but Norfolk's owner told reporters in Virginia that talks were ongoing.

The AHL, hockey's premier minor league, is scheduled to discuss the proposal for a Pacific Division at its meeting later this month. Five teams, including the Kings, who would place an affiliate in Ontario, are positioning for a possible spot.

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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