What the Ducks wanted to develop on defense this season was delayed by injuries, a frantic schedule and the adjustment to some new players in key spots.
Now, as they take a six-game winning streak to a Pacific Division road game Thursday night against the second-place San Jose Sharks, the Ducks appear to have a collective understanding of how best to clamp down.
"We're making it difficult for teams to score," defenseman Hampus Lindholm said. "Hard work always beats talent."
In the Ducks' past five games, they've given up only six goals and have two shutouts. They returned from the All-Star break to win Tuesday at Vancouver, 4-0, with only 17 shots sent at goalie Frederik Andersen.
"We check the puck a lot harder, rather than just trying to contain, as we were in the start of the year," Ducks assistant coach Trent Yawney said. "Lately, we've been coming out of our zone a lot cleaner, and when we do that, it puts us into our strength zone, which is down low.
"It's a credit to the guys for understanding who we are — how we have to play — to get the results that we want."
Yawney said the team's attention to defensive detail sharpened this month with a wealth of practice time.
"To play like we are defensively, it has to be every single guy on the ice," center Nate Thompson said.
Thompson and fellow off-season addition, defense-minded center Ryan Kesler, are playing critical roles, as seen in their contributions to penalty killing. Anaheim has stopped opponents on 19 of the past 21 power plays.
"Guys take a lot of pride in filling in shooting lanes and blocking shots," Yawney said. "We might not be where we want to be [in NHL team rankings], but … we're getting timely kills, the ones that can be difference makers. The guys take pride in killing off those."
What looked like a troublesome hit by Kesler on Vancouver's Derek Dorsett — the forward was forced from the game after a second-period collision — was dismissed as nothing more than a hockey play by the NHL, which will not fine or suspend Kesler.
Several Ducks brought their fathers along on the journey north, the team arranging a special dinner Monday and bringing the dads to practice and games.
"To be around the guys in the locker room, get to converse with other dads, get to see what it's like to be on the road … it's been great," said Thompson, accompanied by his father, Robert.
As a youth in Anchorage, Thompson said his father would take him to early-morning games and practices — indoors and outdoors.
"This is kind of a payback to him," Thompson said. "It's incredible and I know every other player feels the same way."
DUCKS AT SAN JOSE
On the air: TV: NBC Sports Network; Radio: 830.
Etc.: Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said defenseman Eric Brewer appears ready to play "very soon," after more than a week of practice since recovering from a broken foot suffered Dec. 1. The Sharks, led by Joe Pavelski's 24 goals, haven't played since Jan. 21.