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Eakins has winning formula for Ducks

New coach relating to younger players, has Anaheim off to 3-0-0 start

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DETROIT -- Troy Terry is a Dallas fan, in more ways than one.

He's named for Troy Aikman, the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback of his father's favorite NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys. He plays for Dallas Eakins, who coached him with San Diego of the American Hockey League and now coaches him with the Anaheim Ducks.

Eakins once spent a week with the Cowboys learning from coach Jason Garrett. So when the Cowboys play and Terry wants to come to the rink wearing a big, puffy Cowboys Starter jacket from his father's closet, Eakins is cool with it.

"No one really lets me do that except for him, just because he appreciates it," Terry said. "I'm pretty obnoxious about it, and he encourages me to be that way. So that's kind of my favorite part about him."

That gives you a sense of Eakins' approach with the Ducks, who are 3-0-0 and play the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; ATTSN-PT, PRIME, NHL.TV).

The Ducks wanted to get younger and faster after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time since 2011-12. They promoted Eakins from San Diego on June 17 for two main reasons: He relates well to modern athletes and knows the up-and-coming players. His system is up to date in today's NHL and plays to the strengths of his personnel.

Eakins reached out to some veterans in the offseason, traveling as far away as Sweden for meetings. But nine players on the NHL roster played for him in the AHL over the past four seasons. Six of them played for him last season.

"I'm not new here," Eakins said. "As much as I may be the new head coach, I'm not new to this organization."

That's huge for a player like Terry, a 22-year-old forward who split last season between the NHL and the AHL. When he came up to the NHL before, he had a different coach with a different approach, whether it was Randy Carlyle or general manager Bob Murray, who replaced Carlyle when he was fired on Feb. 10. Now he knows the system, and the coach not only appreciates his Starter jacket, he anticipates what gets him started.

Eakins could tell Terry was tense in the season opener, a 2-1 win against the Arizona Coyotes at Honda Center on Oct. 3. Before a 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center two days later, Eakins put his hand on Terry's shoulder.

"Just said, like, 'You're doing fine. Remember to just go have fun out there. Just do your thing,' " Terry said. "He knows me well. He knows that for me to be successful, I've got to be making those creative plays and stuff, and if he sees me playing tense, he'll go out of his way to talk to me. Even just that little dialogue just helps a lot."

The Ducks tied for 17th in goals against (3.02) and ranked last in goals per game (2.39) last season. Murray said in August they weren't hard enough as a team and let too many people get to their net. They needed to be strong defensively, get the puck back and go. Eakins encourages the forwards to collect passes and make plays, not just chip the puck into the offensive zone and get in on the forecheck. He encourages the defensemen to activate.

"If you join up, you have someone come fill for you, and it's with movement," defenseman Hampus Lindholm said. "It's not like one guy comes and fills and stands still on the blue line. It's always, like, moving, and that's the biggest difference."

Defenseman Cam Fowler said it is still a work in progress, but Eakins' changes are already noticeable. The Ducks defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 at Little Caesars Arena on Tuesday.

Video: Ducks come alive in 3rd for 3-1 win against Red Wings

"The brand of hockey is quicker," Fowler said. "It's higher pace. And he always says we want to err on the side of aggression. We don't want to give teams anything for free. He puts a lot of the onus of that on the defensemen and getting up the ice, because we have really good skaters on the back end. That's something that he preaches a lot."

Eakins said a lot of what the Ducks are doing is in response to the players themselves.

"It has very little to do with me," said Eakins, who coached the Edmonton Oilers from 2013-15. "Going through the visits with the players this summer, it's all stuff they wanted, they believed in. It was their vision, and we've just helped implement it."

It's just the start, but so far he has created more Dallas fans.

"He shows that he's really buying in and he really wants us to play good for him," Lindholm said. "He makes it easy to play for him. You want to play good for him when he's treating you that way."

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