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Hockey

Montour has been been up and down for Ducks, but now he’s back on top of his game

Brandon Montour started the season hot and quickly established himself as an emerging NHL player.

He scored four goals in the first 10 games, and the puck-moving defenseman became a catalyst for the Ducks’ offense.

It was also the 23-year-old’s first time opening the season in the NHL.

Growing pains were bound to come.

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After Montour hit a slump on both ends, playing loose with the puck in his own zone at times, it appeared that coach Randy Carlyle had lost faith in him. Montour was a healthy scratch for a game against the New York Rangers on Dec. 19.

Fast forward three months, and Montour is thriving again.

He broke a 49-game goal-less drought with two scores in the Ducks’ victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. “Shots were still there,” Montour said of the drought. “They just weren’t going in.”

His improvement has been rewarded with more shots on the ice. He now plays on the top power-play unit, his one-time shot and skating ability a valuable threat.

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Montour (eight goals, 20 assists) also plays on the team’s top defensive pairing alongside Cam Fowler after skating much of the season on the third unit with veteran Francois Beauchemin.

Montour’s presence allowed general manager Bob Murray to swing a trade for Adam Henrique in November, shipping defenseman Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils.

He has filled the role nicely as “a mobile defenseman that can skate and get up on the play,” Carlyle said. As the team pushes for a playoff spot, he’s being counted on more than ever.

“For me being a younger guy in this league, I play better when the coaches have confidence in me in playing bigger minutes and being counted on the ice,” said Montour, who played nearly 25 minutes against the Canucks, more than all but one of his teammates.

“I’m up for that challenge. … I take a lot of pride in my defense and I feel like that’s a big strength of mine now. I just want to kind of continue. This is only my second season, or first full season, but I take pride in my defense. I want to be that d-guy counted on in the last minute.”

Third pair in flux

The top four defensemen appear to be cemented with Montour and Fowler on the first pair, and Hampus Lindholm playing with Josh Manson.

It’s the third unit that remains unsettled. Carlyle continues to tinker with the lineup in an attempt to solidify the other combination. Marcus Pettersson, the Ducks’ second-round pick in 2014, made his NHL debut Feb. 15. The lanky Swede played in eight consecutive games, with veterans Kevin Bieksa and Beauchemin taking turns as the healthy scratch, but that’s no longer the case.

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Twice in the last three games Pettersson watched from the press box, and his performance was uneven against the Canucks.

He was tentative with the puck, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Carlyle continues to fiddle with the lineup.

“We’re always looking for people to play to a higher level and I think Pettersson’s done fine,” Carlyle said.

“I think the youth that he has — he doesn’t have a lot of experience behind him — but he has a good stick when he makes a mistake and he’s a competitive guy and he can move the puck.”

DUCKS UP NEXT

VS. DETROIT

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

On the air: TV: Fox Sports West; Radio: 830

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Update: After a 3-0 victory over Vancouver, the Ducks face another non-playoff team in the Red Wings. When they last met, the Red Wings prevailed 2-1 at Detroit. … Lindholm was struck by a puck Wednesday and the gash on his chin required more than 20 stitches, but he returned for the third period.

sports@latimes.com


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