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Improvement on defense makes Ducks that much tougher

Improvement on defense makes Ducks that much tougher
Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler shoves Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw to the ice during the first period of the Ducks' 1-0 win Tuesday. (Jeff Haynes / Associated Press)

The Ducks already carry the credibility of leading the NHL in goals scored last season.

If they can continue to complement that offense with a performance such as Tuesday's 1-0 shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Ducks could have the makings of a memorable season.

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"We're playing pretty good defense … good goal differential (31-19), we want it to continue to go well," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of his Ducks, who have limited six of their past eight opponents to a goal or less.

"Obviously, our defense has gotten better. If you look at teams that have won the Cup, they're high in the defensive standings — L.A. was the best defensive team last year, won the Cup. Chicago before that, won it. When Boston won … there's definitely a trend there."

Tuesday's showing — the Ducks' second shutout victory in five games — was the total package.

Rookie John Gibson made 38 saves, many breathtaking, such as his denial of a wide-open Jonathan Toews early in the third period of a then-scoreless game.

"He saved my bacon," center Nate Thompson said on leaving Toews' side to pursue the passer, who dished to Toews.

While Gibson's performance is promising, goaltender Frederik Andersen already is off to an impressive 6-1 start as the Ducks continue a four-game trip Thursday against the St. Louis Blues (4-3-1).

The goalies must like what they are seeing in front of them. Forwards are staying back instead of allowing the odd-man rushes that plagued the Ducks in their season-opening loss in Pittsburgh; defensemen are banging and flinging bodies. The Ducks out-hit Chicago, 37-16, and blocked 18 shots.

The Ducks also killed three penalties against last season's Western Conference finalist, have killed 20 of 25 penalties in their last eight games, and rank fifth in goals allowed at 1.9 per game.

In the frantic final minutes in Chicago, defenseman Cam Fowler cleared a puck an instant after getting hit in the face by a stick and leading scorer Corey Perry laid down to block a shot.

"You have to do that to win hockey games," Boudreau said. "That's why those guys are on the ice. It's just about the two points."

Heatley debut rusty

In his first regular-season game since suffering a preseason groin injury, forward Dany Heatley played 13 minutes, 26 seconds and contributed one shot and one hit.

"He looked like it was his first game in a while, but we expected that, not a big deal," Boudreau said.

THURSDAY

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AT ST.LOUIS

When: 5 PDT.

On the air: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830.

Etc.: Andersen shut out the Blues with 28 saves on Oct. 19 as St. Louis was playing the second of back-to-back road games. This time, St. Louis is home and a day removed from a victory over Dallas. Blues center Paul Stastny (shoulder) has been sidelined since Oct. 18, but skated in team drills Monday.

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