Ducks' defense thriving with balanced diet of ice time

The Ducks have done a remarkable job of spreading out ice time among its six defensemen this season

Getting scoring from many sources and being able to roll four lines have been key factors in the Ducks’ success in the regular season and in winning their first six playoff games. But unlike many teams that play one or two defensemen a huge number of minutes and give far less ice time to the third defense pair, the Ducks have been able to spread out the burden among all six defensemen they’ve used in the playoffs so far and ensure that no one gets too tired or overworked.

They don’t have a stud defenseman like Minnesota’s Ryan Suter, who led the NHL during the regular season with an average ice time of 29 minutes and three seconds and is averaging 26:23 during the playoffs, or Chicago’s Duncan Keith, who averaged 25:33 during the season and is now averaging 30:54, second to the 31:36 averaged by Nashville’s Roman Josi. But the acquisition of Simon Despres has helped the Ducks assemble three pairs that have shared the minutes closely and capably and bring elements of physicality and offensive creativity to each duo.

Francois Beauchemin leads the Ducks’ defensemen with an average ice time of 23:01, which ranked 30th in the NHL through Monday’s games. He’s followed by his defense partner, Hampus Lindholm (20:52), and then Sami Vatanen (20:48), Cam Fowler (20:41) Despres (18:22) and Clayton Stoner (18:08).

“I think it’s a reflection of the depth,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said Tuesday after the Ducks held an optional morning skate in advance of Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal playoff series against the Calgary Flames.

“All year we pretty well rolled six defensemen and very rarely will we get into a situation where two [defensemen] have to play 27 minutes or anything, unless somebody gets hurt during the course of a game.”

He credited assistant coach Trent Yawney for creating a balanced allotment of playing time that should help keep everyone fresh. “He’s done a great job with that as far as keeping everybody that plays in that situation possible,” Boudreau said. “Now, we’ve been reaping the benefits so far in the playoffs.”

Stoner, who’s averaging 30 seconds more per game in the playoffs than during the season, has compiled a +5 defensive rating, second among the Ducks.

“It’s a credit to the team, the way we play and the defensemen we have on the team,” he said of the distribution of playing time. “We could put in other guys too and the minutes would be just as balanced. It’s sure nice to have that depth and the confidence of the coaches to play everybody. If it changes down the stretch, I don’t know, but right now everybody’s playing with confidence and it’s nice to know that the coaches have faith in you. It’s fun to see and fun to play, for sure.”

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