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Defense charged with returning Ducks to Western Conference lead

SportsAnaheim DucksWestern Conference (NHL)Phil KesselMark FistricNBAToronto Maple Leafs

The reputation that precedes the Ducks is their offense, as the team has the third most goals in the NHL.

But it also ranks fifth in the league in team defense, allowing 2.36 goals a game.

The unit was further lifted by Friday’s performance against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh
Penguins, limiting the potent Eastern Conference power to just seven shots through two periods before losing in a shootout.

Monday night, the Ducks (43-14-7) have a second crack at Toronto right wing Phil Kessel, who scorched them for a hat trick Oct. 22 in the Maple Leafs’ 4-2 home victory and resides on the highest scoring line in the NHL.

The urgency of winning increased following the St. Louis Blues’ Sunday victory that knocked
the Ducks out of first place in the Western Conference for the first time this calendar year.

Kessel ranks third in the NHL with 33 goals, behind Ducks forward Corey Perry (34) and
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (44). Perry said Kessel is “one of the most dynamic players on the ice, in terms of his speed and shot.”

Ducks rookie defenseman Hampus Lindholm, who’s plus-24 in goal differential, said the defense is braced for the challenge.

“Good player, but like we did against Pittsburgh, as long as we don’t have good gap
and don’t give him too much extra space out there, we can control him better,” Lindholm said.

Defenseman Mark Fistric said the team’s defensive confidence was boosted by the Penguins’
effort, further legitimizing the league ranking.

“It shows when we play as a group of five, we can shut down the best,” Fistric said. “The
Pittsburgh game was a great example of great defensive zone coverage, limiting their time and space when they got the puck.

“The guys in this room have that mentality we’re going to compete for a Stanley Cup. They
believe.”

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Lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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