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Ducks' new focus on defense is paying off

Ducks' new focus on defense is paying off
Ducks defenseman Josh Manson, left, and Dallas winger Erik Cole fight for the puck during the first period of game on Oct. 31. (Sharon Ellman / Associated Press)

Greetings from Denver, where the Ducks practiced Saturday at Pepsi Center to prepare for their game against the Avalanche on Sunday. In an odd bit of scheduling, the Avalanche was in St. Louis on Saturday to face the Blues, so the Ducks had the arena all to themselves.

The Ducks woke up Saturday morning with the NHL's best team goals-against average, 1.81. Yes, it's early in the season — the Ducks have played 12 games and are 9-3-0 — but establishing that kind of defensive foundation can only help them as the season goes on. Attention to defense has carried them through a stretch in which they're not scoring much: only three goals in their last three games, two of which they won.

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And, just for reference, the Kings had the NHL's best goals-against average last season and went on to win the Stanley Cup. That has had a huge influence on the Ducks' emphasis on the defensive end of things.

"I think we've been playing pretty solid defensively," said defenseman Hampus Lindholm, who played 25 minutes and 29 seconds in the Ducks' 2-1 overtime victory at Dallas on Friday, second on the team only to Francois Beauchemin's 28:05.

"We definitely can put some bigger numbers up front. The last couple of games we haven't scored as much. But you don't win championships with a good offense. You do that with a good defense and as long as we play good defense, the scoring always comes sooner or later. So we just have to keep it up on the back end."

Coach Bruce Boudreau attributed the defensive strides to strategy suggested by Trent Yawney, who replaced Bob Woods as an assistant coach this season. "He's had some different ideas," Boudreau said of Yawney. Boudreau also credited the solid goaltending of Frederik Andersen and John Gibson for the defensive improvement.

"You only need one goal to win even though it's a tough way to do it," Boudreau said. "Our offense will kick in. The thing I know is that we've got guys that will score and are going to score. They just haven't done a lot of it lately. But it's a long year. The defense is a structural thing that if you keep it in place and play the same way with the same effort it can be done for the course of the year.

"I like the fact that defensively we're doing OK right now and knowing at some point the offense will kick in."

Boudreau said he hadn't decided whether to keep the same lineup Sunday that won on Friday, a lineup that didn't include Dany Heatley. Boudreau also said he expected defenseman Mark Fistric to be out of action two weeks with the lower-back problem that Fistric has experienced before. Josh Manson, who played capably in place of Fistric on Friday in his NHL debut, will get another chance Sunday.

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen

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