Sitting atop the NHL standings after 41 games of their 82-game schedule, the Ducks have every reason to say their glass is half-full.
If it's being filled mostly with one-goal victories, that's fine.
Pushed hard Sunday by the aggressive Nashville Predators, the Ducks pulled even in the third period and prevailed in the shootout for a 4-3 victory, their league-high 20th one-goal win. Defenseman Francois Beauchemin, venturing deep into the offensive zone, whacked a rebound that glanced off the stick of goaltender Carter Hutton with 2:17 to play in the third period, and Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler scored in the tiebreaker. Craig Smith scored Nashville's only goal in the skills contest.
"It's not the way we draw it up, but they're a heck of a hockey team," said Ducks right wing Corey Perry, who redirected a shot by Rene Bourque in the second period for his first goal in three games since returning from a knee injury. "They can skate, they can make plays. It was a battle out there tonight. They played real hard and battled hard for every inch."
The Ducks (26-9-6, 58 points) improved to 3-1 on this eight-game homestand at Honda Center and to 11-3-1 in their last 15 games. Regrouping after taking a string of penalties that helped the Predators take a 3-2 lead in the second
period, the Ducks stayed out of the penalty box in the third and outshot Nashville, 14-3, in that span.
"We just had to settle down," Perry said. "It got away from us for about four minutes there, or whatever it was, and we took a couple penalties, but those things happen, and we learn from our mistakes."
They learned they're capable of skating on the right side of a narrow line in tight games.
"Good teams know how to win those one-goal games, and that's what they are in playoffs," Kesler said. "Playoffs, they're tight, one-goal games, and if we know how to win them now, it's going to make it that much easier in playoffs."
But it's not easy on Coach Bruce Boudreau now. "The coaches would like to have a five-goal game just once in a while," he said.
That's not likely to happen, given the quality and depth in the Western Conference. And the Ducks probably wouldn't know what to do in a 4-0 or 5-0 win. "Those are boring for everyone," Kesler said, smiling.
Kesler helped set up the Ducks' first goal by forcing a turnover in the neutral zone, though he didn't get an assist. Matt Beleskey extended his career-best total to 17 goals by whipping a shot past Hutton's glove at 12:15 of the first period.
Nashville made it 1-1 when Mattias Ekholm's shot hit the post and trickled behind Frederik Andersen at 1:38 of the second period, but the Ducks responded quickly. Ryan Getzlaf carried the puck up the right side and sent a backpass to Rene Bourque, whose shot was redirected by Perry at 2:52.
The Predators, who play a more open game under Coach Peter Laviolette than they did under previous coach Barry Trotz, tied it on a power play, moving the puck well to set up a blast by defenseman Seth Jones that deflected off Kesler and Ben Lovejoy and past Andersen at 13:50.
Smith converted a rebound to put the Predators ahead at 17:14 of the second period, but the Ducks didn't panic. "Even though we were down, 3-2, I thought we were the better team," Kesler said. "Other than giving up a couple of power-play goals, I thought five-on-five we took it to them."
Improving their special teams and scoring balance and staying out of the penalty box are the Ducks' priorities for the second half of their season. But they're happy to be where they are at the moment.
"We're first in the NHL. You can't really ask for more than that," Beauchemin said.
Yes, you can. You can ask and work toward being the team that lifts the Stanley Cup in June. The experience of winning tense, one-goal games now can't hurt their effort to get there.