NHL

Ducks have gotten with the program since Christmas to move near the top in NHL's Pacific Division

The phrase "buying in" was brought out more than once when the Ducks held their first practice at home after two weeks spent in four time zones.

They're coming off the most successful trip of at least seven games in franchise history — they went 5-1-1 — and their 18-4-2 record since Christmas is among the best in the NHL. Not only are they buying in to the formula for success, they're digging deep into their pockets.

They will try to keep it going as they begin a five-game run at Honda Center on Sunday with renewed perspective. They went 1-7-2 to start the season and, at Christmas, occupied last place in the Western Conference at 12-15-6.

"Going through something like that, hopefully we can use it down the stretch," Ryan Getzlaf said. "There's going to be other tough times. You're not going to play the rest of the year lights out every night. It's just about how we respond to certain things."

To hear Getzlaf and other players tell it, there was no dramatic transformation over the Christmas break. He and the rest of the Ducks' leadership group simply had ongoing discussions with Coach Bruce Boudreau on correcting issues that stemmed from September.

"Coming out of training camp, we had a weird thing going on," Getzlaf said. "[There were] a lot of expectations, and we weren't all buying in and on the same page. We had a lot of changes over the summer. It took some time to adapt — bringing in people within the system that we wanted to, and understanding each other and where everyone's going to be.

"After Christmas, I felt we came back with a different mentality that we were going to play and do the right things and stop questioning everything and just do it."

Getzlaf emerged from the worst start in his career and now is the leading scorer in a balanced Ducks attack. The lines centered by Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell each scored seven goals during the trip, and the lines centered by Ryan Kesler and Nate Thompson each scored four.

Restricted free-agents-to-be Rakell, Frederik Andersen and Hampus Lindholm have played integral roles. Rakell has a career-high 15 goals, and five of Lindholm's career-high eight goals have come since the All-Star break. Andersen is 9-0-1 in 11 appearances and has not lost in regulation since Dec.21.

Goals-against remains the focus. Boudreau, known for his strong offensive teams in Washington, acknowledged that a defense-first approach is "not really a Bruce Boudreau philosophy" but it had to be because of their early weak offense.

The Ducks have averaged 3.72 goals in their last 18 games, though, to alleviate pressure on their back end and allow defensemen like Lindholm to freelance.

"It really makes everything a little easier," Lindholm said. "If you're up a couple of goals, you can kind of relax and play your game a little bit more. If it's a 1-1 game or a 0-0 game, we're still going to play good defensively, but . . . it's more comfortable playing that way with a lead."

The Ducks could take the lead in the Pacific Division if they chase down the Kings. They're in this position without General Manager Bob Murray having made drastic changes.

"He had the faith in those guys that they would turn it around, and the faith, to me, has been justified," Boudreau said.

DUCKS NEXT UP

VS. CALGARY

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 830

Update: The Ducks' 21-game regular-season home winning streak against Calgary is tied for the second-longest such run in NHL history, behind Philadelphia's 23-game streak against Pittsburgh from 1980 to 1987. Former Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller will start for the Flames, according to the Calgary Herald.

Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @CurtisZupke

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 21, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Ducks have made presence felt since Christmas - After a terrible start, they're 18-4-2 in last eight weeks. Players credit it to `buying in.'" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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