Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa was practically deadpan when he broke down how this season has played out.
Asked whether the Ducks' gradual cohesion was by ideal design, Bieksa channeled his comedic side.
"We had a meeting at the start of the season and we said, 'Let's come out of the gates slow, and from behind, and then slowly we can build our game, and right around March, we'll pick it up and we'll start playing a little bit harder,' " Bieksa said.
"But until then, everybody will just cruise. It's happened perfectly, just like we planned."
Sarcasm aside, from an opening night lineup with rookies Nick Sorensen and Jacob Larsson, the Ducks evolved through their salary cap issues to become a team arguably playing the most consistent hockey in the NHL.
All four lines are rolling and their identity is solid. For a team that has said all along its first goal was to make the playoffs, the Ducks can check off that box with a point Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks, or if the Kings lose in any fashion.
"During the season, it's a matter of growing as a team and preparing to play the right way to get into the playoffs," Corey Perry said. "As you go along, you're going to find what works and what doesn't. It's growing pains, as you can say. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer and I think we've found something that's been working and it's been a good thing so far."
Even Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged that, "from a lineup standpoint, we're as comfortable as we've been all year."
Sorensen, Larsson and others were eventually replaced by Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm, following their contract holdouts. The acquisition of Patrick Eaves was crucial as he's meshed with center Ryan Getzlaf as a player who goes to the net while Getzlaf cycles the puck.
"Everybody is playing a role," Perry said. "Everybody is doing the right things. Everybody is finding their groove and everybody is contributing in different ways. That's what a team is."
The schedule actually did the Ducks a favor by giving them the NHL's last bye week. They've roared out of it with a 9-2-1 run.
"It's not the plan, but it's a pretty good way to do things, how you pick up your game and you start getting hot at the right time," Bieksa said. "We need to get into the playoffs and all of a sudden all the teams are looking at the standings are like, 'Holy crap, I don't want to play that team.' That's kind of where we're going right now. We need to keep that going."
Goalie John Gibson appears close to returning from a lower-body injury. Carlyle said before the Ducks left for a four-game trip that Gibson would be available at some point, and the Ducks re-assigned backup Jhonas Enroth.
Gibson has been out since March 10.
Bieksa paid a heavy price for a non-call Wednesday when he lost two teeth and had his lip split open on an inadvertent high stick from Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers.
It became somewhat palatable when official Wes McCauley apologized to him Friday, Bieksa said.
"I've always respected Wes McCauley … He came over just to specifically apologize to me that he missed that call," Bieksa said. "He said he felt really bad … I just thought it was one of the classiest things I've ever had happen to me."
Clayton Stoner (abdominal) is expected to join the team during the trip, Carlyle said … Andrew Cogliano is the Ducks' nominee for the Masterton Trophy by the Anaheim chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Assn, given to the player "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey." Cogliano went from sixth to fourth on the NHL's most-consecutive games played list this season and stands at 779 straight games.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 830.
Update: Vancouver right wing Brock Boeser got a goal in his NHL debut last Saturday and is a good story for the Canucks as they play out the string.