By AJ Manderichio
There’s a popular sports cliché that reads “Defense wins championships.”
While we’re a long way away from awarding the Stanley Cup to any team, the Ducks defense continues to play stout defense in its own end. After allowing six goals in its season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ducks have allowed just eight over their last seven games. It’s no surprise that improved play led to the current seven-game win streak.
“Mentally, we didn’t feel like our effort was where it needed to be in that first game,” defenseman Cam Fowler said. “It was up to us to take a long look at ourselves and make a change. We know the type of team we can be when we focus on our defense and take care of that area first, and it shows in our record these past few games.”
With the team preparing for a tough test against the rival San Jose Sharks tomorrow night, the back end took the spotlight after today’s practice at Honda Center.
“We didn’t start so well, allowing six goals,” Sami Vatanen said. “After that, we decided we have to be better in our own zone, and it’s working pretty well.”
The improvements were on full display last night, when the Ducks held a dangerous Columbus Blue Jackets team to 17 shots on net, an effort right wing Corey Perry called the team’s best of the young season.
“I thought everyone played well,” he said. “We kept them to a minimum, and that’s our goal. We didn’t allow 20 shots last night, which is a goal of ours. We kept the puck out of our zone and committed no turnovers.
“If we play like that each night, we’re going to give ourselves a good chance to win.”
The defensive success is nothing new to coach Bruce Boudreau.
“We’re playing pretty good defense, but I thought we played pretty good defense last year,” he said. “We were ninth in the league last year. In mid-March, with 15 games to go, we were fourth in the league, which would have put us ahead of a lot of those teams people say are great defensive teams.
I don’t want to jinx it, but we have a pretty good goal differential and we’re going pretty well.”
THE VATMAN RISES
What a difference a year made for Sami Vatanen.
The Ducks defenseman, who spent time last year shuffling between Norfolk and Anaheim, continues to provide the spark for the power play. After last night’s win, the 23-year-old Finn sat atop the league in power-play points (7) and sports a career-best three power-play goals.
Coach Bruce Boudreau believes his experience last year propelled Vatanen to his hot start.
“Things are going well for him,” he said. “Confidence has a lot to do with his game right now. He’s pretty confident, pretty self-assured in what he’s doing.”
Vatanen couldn’t put his finger on one reason for his success.
“I don’t know the [exact] point, but I just try to enjoy the game,” he said. “We have a good power play going. It’s all five guys working, and I just get the points.”
WE’RE GOING STREAKING
Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Ducks have reeled off four win streaks of seven-or-more games. There have been only 10 total win streaks of seven games-or-more by NHL teams since the start of last season, four of which are by the Ducks.
Cam Fowler couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason for the team’s recent success, but circled back to a common theme - confidence.
“Once this group gets some confidence and starts seeing the results, it does wonders for us,” he said. “Bruce does a good job preparing us for every game and making sure we’re ready mentally. I think it’s easy once you get a few under you. You want to have that feeling all the time.
“We’re just trying to take it game-by-game and keep this thing going.”
As motivation, Boudreau reminds his team how hard they need to work to maintain success.
“I tell the guys every day, the hardest thing to do in the NHL is win. You need to take every day as an individual day. If you start looking ahead two or three days, it becomes a daunting task. We’ll wake up tomorrow and want to win that one game.”
The team’s seven-game win streak is the league’s longest since Boston won 12 straight from March 2-22, 2014.