-- In his baby-blue practice jersey, Toni Lydman
stands out from the crowd at the Anaheim Ducks
' practice. The blue means he's still untouchable as far as body checks are concerned, because the 34-year-old defenseman still is recovering from the shoulder surgery he underwent during the summer.
He's close to returning to the lineup, but whether he will be able to play in Friday's game against the Sabres (1 p.m. ET, TSN2) -- in front of his home crowd, against his former team -- remains a question mark.
"Of course it would be fun to play in Helsinki, and especially against the Sabres, but the shoulder has to be 100 percent for me to play," Lydman said. "I don't think the decision will be made until Thursday."
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Should Lydman not be cleared to play by Thursday, he'll have to go on injured reserve.
"We're not ruling him out, but his time frame to play -- he'd be ahead of schedule if we were to use him this weekend," said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle
Lydman, who finished tied for second in the League with a plus-32 rating last season, is an important part of the Ducks' defense, a unit Carlyle said will be even more of a focal point this season. The first two forward lines are capable of producing enough goals, but according to Carlyle, it’s the defense that has to improve. That's why the Ducks changed their camp schedule this season, playing just one one-hour scrimmage.
"We did more teaching than scrimmages this year," said Carlyle.
The Ducks were 10th in the League in goals last season, but 20th in goals-against. The fact they lost their three first games last season -- and six of their first 10 -- and the disappointing loss to the Nashville Predators
in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are something the Ducks are using for motivation to start the new season stronger.
"It's great that we have the core of the team together so that we can try to use the disappointment as fuel for this season," said Lydman, a native of Lahti, about 65 miles north of Helsinki. "You can't lose three, four games to start the season in the NHL that is so close these days. Every point counts.
"A good October can make things easier further down the road. If we can be better at defense -- and it's not just up to the defensemen -- I'm sure our two top lines can produce enough offense to make us a better team this season."
Lydman is entering his second season with the Ducks, having spent his first four NHL seasons with the Calgary Flames
and five with the Buffalo Sabres
. Playing in California, where hockey isn't always in the news, suits Lydman just fine.
"Calgary is, like all Canadian cities, a true hockey town where everything is about hockey. Buffalo is a big hockey city, too, but in Anaheim, it's easier to bring work home with you. Except for Teemu (Selanne) who is a hockey icon there, as well," Lydman said. "But as far as the work itself is concerned, there's no difference: Anaheim is a great organization, and the team is really good, with a lot of good players.
"We have great expectations for the season, but of course that's the same with every team when we haven’t played a game yet."
The Ducks will play their last preseason Tuesday, against Jokerit Helsinki, the team Selanne grew up playing with and the team that sits on top of the Finnish SM-liiga standings with a 6-1-0 record.
Lydman will see that game in a suit from the press box, but Friday, he hopes to be wearing the same color jersey as the rest of his teammates.