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Ducks winning despite injured, inexperienced defense

Korbinian Holzer, Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour stepping up to help take 2-0 series lead against Flames

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

CALGARY -- It was late in the regular season and the Anaheim Ducks defense was a battered group against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on April 2.

Hampus Lindholm was out with an injury, as was Sami Vatanen. Shea Theodore, who had played the night before with San Diego of the American Hockey League, scrambled to make his way to Calgary. Rarely used Korbinian Holzer not only played but scored his first goal since Jan. 31.

Call it a dress rehearsal for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  

 

[RELATED: Complete Ducks vs. Flames coverage]

 

Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray knew he needed insurance on defense for a long and grueling postseason run, and wanted to be eight or nine deep, just in case

Two games into their Western Conference First Round series against the Flames, Murray's words have been proven prophetic.

The Ducks have been winning with a patchwork and young, inexperienced defense. Anaheim leads the best-of-7 series 2-0 with Game 3 in Calgary on Monday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, PRIME).

At the start, the Ducks were missing No. 1 defenseman Cam Fowler because of a knee injury. Then another key cog, Vatanen (upper body) was a late scratch for Game 2 after taking warmups.

Holzer made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut in a 3-2 victory in Game 2. Rookie Brandon Montour has played in the first two playoff games of his NHL career, getting 21:16 of ice time Saturday, and Josh Manson has played in his second and third.

Video: CGY@ANA, Gm2: Silfverberg snaps wrister past Elliott

Theodore, who has three assists in the series, is all the way up to eight career NHL playoff games.

"That's great for our younger kids," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said Sunday. "They're getting exposure and the experience of playoff hockey, and that should only bode well for their future to get a taste of what playoff hockey is like.

"I don't see them intimated by it, in the first two games, anyway. Now, it's going to be a different animal when we go to Calgary. We know that. … I'm sure [the Flames] are going to be more aggressive in the way they play and the approach they're going to take."

Carlyle's matter-of-fact calm and the poise of assistant Trent Yawney, who runs the defense, almost seem to transfer to the players. Yawney has prepared them well and said he is doing his best to stay out of their way.

He praised Holzer, who went to Germany to deal with a family matter and returned before the playoffs started. Holzer played 13:05 in Game 2, including 1:26 on the penalty kill.

"Right now, all I'm concerned about with is the guys that are playing and they did a good job," Yawney said after Game 2. "That's the sign of a good team when you have a guy like [Holzer], who was flying across the world and came back.

"You've got to take the test. If you're going to play in the NHL, you're going to have to play in the playoffs. I'm very happy with what they've done so far. It's only going to get tougher.

"They're going to have to study harder."

Video: ANA@CGY: Holzer buries Getzlaf's sweet cross-ice pass

Holzer said he had some butterflies before Game 2, but the nerves quickly disappeared. He said his family in Germany has been supportive.

"It was a little difficult for me going back and forth," he said. "But it was a matter of family stuff happening back home. I wanted and needed to go home. Overall, the situation could be better, I'm not going to lie about it. I'm here to play hockey now. I know my family back home supports me with whatever I'm doing right now."

Lindholm, second among Ducks defensemen with 36 career NHL playoff games behind Kevin Bieksa's 79, pointed out that Holzer is not the typical playoff newcomer.

Holzer, 29, played for Germany in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and has represented his country at various international competitions. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 32 games during the regular season.

"He was great [Saturday]," Lindholm said. "He's been good all year. He's a very mature guy and great player. I had no doubt he would play well."

Said Murray: "His skill level is underrated; a no-maintenance guy."

When Murray acquired Holzer in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline, the cost was minimal: a fifth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and defenseman Eric Brewer. Holzer found out he was traded but didn't know where he was going, explaining in a TV interview that his girlfriend called him to tell him. She didn't know where they were headed, however, because she didn't recognize the Ducks logo on TV.

For the Ducks, those are the small deals that can pay dividends down the line.

"When you lose the quality of players that we lost in Vatanen and Fowler, there's not one guy that's going to take that role up," Carlyle said. "That's going to have to be taken up by committee.

"You're going to have to mix and match your people. That's a task in itself."  

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