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Around the West: Hard work, discipline define Ducks

by Dan Rosen
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle has been talking about forging an identity as a team since training camp. Now, in the middle of January, it appears the Ducks finally have one.

They work, skate, compete, stay disciplined and rely on great goaltending.

We're not talking about anything earth shattering here, because if you ask any coach in the League, he'd want his team to have all five of those traits. But the fact that it's taken the Ducks this long to get to this point is interesting because now is when a team fighting for a playoff berth wants to start peaking, and it appears they are.

The Ducks have won six of seven since a 4-1 loss at Los Angeles on Dec. 26 and they just finished a six-game homestand with a 5-1-0 record. They entered Friday's games sixth in the Western Conference with 52 points despite not having captain Ryan Getzlaf (facial injuries) since Dec. 28.

"When we lost poorly in L.A. we went into Phoenix and we talked about it in one-on-one meetings," Carlyle told "That's the stuff that came out. We hadn't really had any practice time and we weren't very sharp as a group, so we started to work harder. Since then we've done more skating, D-zone coverage and special teams in practice."

Anaheim capped its successful homestand Wednesday with a 7-4 win against St. Louis. It wasn't anything like their previous four wins on the homestand, because in those games All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller combined to give up just three goals, including back-to-back shutouts of the Blue Jackets and Sharks.

Wednesday's win required a hat trick from Bobby Ryan, who in the last three games has 6 goals, double the amount he had scored in his previous 17 games. Anaheim needed a strong third period to put away the Blues, and they got it with four goals on Ty Conklin in the final 20 minutes.

It was proof that the Ducks can win even when Hiller isn't great.

"It wasn't just going to happen. We had to live it, develop it and understand it," Carlyle said. "I think there is more of an understanding of how we have to play and our players accepted that."

Now let's walk around the West for an update on all 15 teams. They are listed below in order of the conference standings.

 Vancouver Canucks (28-9-6, 62 points)

The Canucks lost Thursday -- and in regulation, no less. What is the world coming to? Dogs and cats, living together -- mass chaos. This doesn't happen. Um, wait, yes it does. All teams hit a snag once in a while -- even the Canucks. The Rangers played their stingiest game of the season Thursday and held on tightly to beat Vancouver 1-0. It was the Canucks' first regulation loss since Dec. 5. So, what does that make them? Try 14-1-3 over their last 18 games. No one is complaining.

 Detroit Red Wings (27-11-5, 59 points)

Maybe he's just being hard on his players so they understand the importance of the final six games before the All-Star break, but coach Mike Babcock told reporters in Detroit on Thursday that he doesn't like the way the Wings have been killing penalties recently and he feels they've fallen off defensively. The Red Wings held Vancouver to just one goal last weekend, but it was a power-play goal. The penalty kill was 5-for-5 against Colorado, but Detroit gave up five goals and lost. The Red Wings have given up 31 goals in their last 10 games. They've scored 37 and are 6-3-1 in the stretch.

 Dallas Stars (26-13-5, 57 points)

If it weren't for the surging Ducks, Dallas would be separating itself from the pack in the Pacific Division. As it is the Stars are five points ahead of Anaheim with two games in hand. They're 4-0-1 in their last five games and going back to the middle of November they're 18-6-5 over their last 29 games. Jamie Langenbrunner is scoreless in two games since being acquired from New Jersey a week ago, but he did drop the gloves with Edmonton's Kurtis Foster on Tuesday. Dallas has two more at home before going to Western Canada next week.

 Phoenix Coyotes (22-13-9, 53 points)

The Coyotes have won three in a row and five of their last six. How? Seriously, that's a good question. It's got to be their balance and the buy-in factor they've got under coach Dave Tippett. Phoenix doesn't have anything close to a point-per-game player, but they do have three players with 30 or more points, four more with 20 or more points and another seven in the teens. By comparison, Dallas has just nine players with double-digit point totals, but two All-Stars in Brad Richards (50 points) and Loui Eriksson (47 points). The Stars are winning that way, and Phoenix is winning its way. Both ways work.

 Nashville Predators (23-14-6, 52 points)

Florida edged the Predators 3-2 on Thursday. Not as newsworthy as Vancouver losing in regulation, but still a headline because Nashville had won its previous six games to jump into the top four in the Western Conference. With one loss they dropped from that spot, but that's how crazy the West has been all season and likely will be the rest of the way. Now the key for Nashville is not to go on a prolonged losing streak. The Preds have been streaky both ways all season. They lost five in a row prior to going on their six-game win streak.

 Anaheim Ducks (24-18-4, 52 points)

Goaltender Jonas Hiller's run of brilliance ended Wednesday as his shutout streak was snapped at 178:34 when David Backes scored the first of his two goals. The Ducks still won their sixth in seven games thanks to an offensive barrage, including a hat trick from Bobby Ryan, who is an interesting case study. Ryan had just 3 goals and 3 assists in 15 games last month, but has 6 goals in the last three games. Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said he constantly talks to Ryan about going to the net and cashing in there, and that's what he did Wednesday.

 Chicago Blackhawks (24-18-3, 51 points)

Are we finally seeing the Blackhawks take flight? They've won three in a row -- two straight by way of shutout thanks to the emerging Corey Crawford -- and four of their last five. Chicago has put together these kinds of runs already this season, but hasn't been consistent enough. They won four in a row in October, but won just three of their next 11. They won four in a row late last month, but lost four of their next five before starting their current winning streak. They've got five games left before the All-Star break, but two are against surging Nashville, one is at Detroit and another is home against Philadelphia.

 Colorado Avalanche (22-16-6, 50 points)

OK, something clearly is amiss here. The Avalanche have won three times -- just once in regulation -- in their last 11 games (3-6-2). They got blanked 4-0 in Chicago on Wednesday. Adrian Dater of the Denver Post blogged about a lack of team identity after that loss, writing that half the team believes they're a run-and-gun squad and the other half is thinking all about defense. The Avalanche will have a five-game homestand before the All-Star break to figure it out, but first they have to play in Minnesota on Friday.

 St. Louis Blues (21-16-6, 48 points)

They snapped a five-game winless streak Thursday with a 3-1 defeat of Los Angeles for their first win in 2011. However, with that single victory and two points, the Blues jumped from 12th to ninth in the standings and within just two points of eighth, three points of seventh and four points of fifth. Pretty remarkable, but again, that's the West this season. The Blues may have hit rock-bottom in the third period against Anaheim on Wednesday when they allowed four goals en route to a 7-4 loss. Perhaps Thursday's solid win, which included their strongest defensive effort in days, is a sign of good things to come.

 Minnesota Wild (21-17-5, 47 points)

Four straight wins to start the new year and then, bam, you run into a brick wall that you just couldn't steer clear of. That's the Minnesota Wild right now after a 4-0 loss at home to Dallas last Sunday and a 5-1 loss at Nashville on Wednesday. The Wild have surged into the playoff race, but their inconsistencies are everywhere. The issue in the second half is can they establish some type of consistency, because when they're on, they're most definitely on. They have to get to the point that when they're off, they're still competitive.

 Los Angeles Kings (23-19-1, 47 points)

Is a shakeup needed in Los Angeles because the Kings aren't pulling themselves out of this funk? They embarked on a season-long eight-game homestand late last month with the hope that it would push them into the upper tier of the Western Conference, but the reverse has happened. The Kings are 1-6-0 on the homestand, with just a game against Edmonton left. They've lost seven of their last eight games, all in regulation, and three times by three goals. Coach Terry Murray said Thursday that the Kings are making one mistake and it's winding up as the difference in the game. He knows they're too talented for that to be the case.

 San Jose Sharks (21-19-5, 47 points)

Ex-Shark Jeremy Roenick on Wednesday tweeted, "AMBER ALERT, if anyone has seen the Sharks contact Doug Wilson." We're still looking, JR. San Jose dropped its sixth straight game Thursday in what only can be described as an unacceptable 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, one of only three teams below the once impressive Sharks in the standings. San Jose hasn't strung together this many losses in 15 years. "I'm the coach, I'm the leader of this team," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It's my responsibility to make sure they are prepared to play. Right now I'm not doing a very good job."

 Columbus Blue Jackets (20-20-3, 43 points)

Remember when Scott Arniel was an early season Jack Adams Award candidate and the Blue Jackets were a fearsome squad, winners of 14 of 20 by U.S. Thanksgiving? Times were grand. Now -- Wednesday in particular -- we have to read a column in the Columbus Dispatch aimed at talking a faction of fans out of their delirium of wanting to trade captain Rick Nash, the face of the franchise. What the heck happened here? The Blue Jackets have lost 17 of their last 23 games, including five in a row. Trading Nash is not the answer, but Columbus needs some type of solution soon.

 Calgary Flames (18-20-5, 41 points)

The Flames have scored nine goals in their last two games but have only two points to show for it -- in both instances they lost in a shootout to lose the extra point. Is this progress? Well, offensively it is. The Flames had scored eight goals in their previous four games, so nine in two is huge. However, defense and goaltending have been an issue. Miikka Kiprusoff was pulled in Carolina on Tuesday after giving up four goals on eight shots in just over 25 minutes. He gave up four goals on 27 shots last Friday in a shootout loss to Detroit. He's allowed 11 goals on 56 shots in his last three starts.

 Edmonton Oilers (14-21-7, 35 points)

The Oilers have won only twice in their last 11 games, but you get a sense lately that the team is on the right path. At least, that's how they should be feeling after Thursday's 5-2 win against San Jose. Taylor Hall scored twice, All-Star Ales Hemsky had 4 points and Devan Dubnyk made 41 saves. Hall now has 14 goals to lead the Oilers and rank third among rookies. Hemsky has 28 points in 29 games.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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