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Perry learning how to play tough and smart

by Brian Hunter

It's a fine line Corey Perry must walk, and last season he pulled off the balancing act to perfection.

In his sixth National Hockey League season, the Anaheim Ducks power forward came into his own as a goal scorer. Perry beat opposing goaltenders 50 times -- tops in the NHL and an improvement of 18 goals over his previous single-season high -- and finished with 98 points en route to capturing the Hart Trophy.

However, the Ducks also rely on the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Perry to provide a physical presence up front, and they've counted on him for that long before he developed into one of the League's elite offensive forces. Occasionally this means mixing it up and finding himself in the penalty box, where Perry has spent over 100 minutes in each of the last four seasons.

It shapes up as something of a conundrum for a player who's as adept at putting the puck in the net as he is at banging bodies and mucking it up in the corners. Playing a rugged style of hockey helped Perry, a 2003 first-round pick, establish himself in the NHL, but these days he's an MVP-winning scorer, and you can't light the lamp while sitting in the sin bin.

"That's kind of my style of game, being not so much an agitator but being in people's faces and in front of the goalie and those different things," Perry told "You've just got to be careful. You can't take those stupid penalties in the offensive zone, or a tripping or a slashing or whatever. You've got to eliminate those and go from there."

Perry's 104 penalty minutes last season were his fewest since he recorded just 55 in 2006-07, his second season, and he limited his time in the box to 22 minutes in Anaheim's final 29 games. That's the date Perry recorded a hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche to begin a torrid stretch run in which he scored 25 goals -- doubling his output for the first 53 games of the season -- and recorded 45 points, sealing his Hart candidacy and lifting the Ducks from a playoff bubble team to the Western Conference's fourth seed.

"I wasn't in the penalty box as much as I was in the first half of the year," Perry said. "Those different things definitely helped to increase my ice time, kept me in the game a little bit more. You put those things in the back of your mind and I think you use those to your advantage."

While Perry's ability to cut down on penalties speaks to his maturity, the 26-year-old believes the significant increase in goals can be traced to the added confidence he has gained through each passing season, along with the contributions of his very talented linemates.

"You want to score goals and you want to put up points and you want to help your team win, but if you're not confident I don't think any of those are going to happen," Perry said. "Going in and being confident and knowing you can do this and this is what got you here, it adds to the fire and away you go.

"Once you get your feet wet and then, knowing our team, Getzy (Ryan Getzlaf) and myself and Bobby Ryan, we're the guys that people look up to to produce every night. And to put that pressure on us, we have fun with it. We want to be out there, we want to be the guys that are the go-to guys, and that's why we enjoy where we are and enjoy playing hockey."

Corey Perry
Right Wing - ANA
GOALS: 50 | ASST: 48 | PTS: 98
SOG: 290 | +/-: 9
In his first season as Anaheim captain, Getzlaf finished third on the team in scoring with 76 points, with Ryan 71 points good for fourth. All three played in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Perry and Getzlaf bringing home gold for Canada and Ryan earning silver for the U.S., and the trio is widely regarded as not only the Ducks' top line, but possibly the best in the League.

Their partnership began not long after Ryan reached the NHL during the 2007-08 season, and Perry doesn't dispute the notion that their familiarity with one another has played a big role in their individual and collective successes.

"It's definitely helped, especially when we're friends on and off the ice. The chemistry is definitely there," he said. "The three of us kind of play the same style of game. We're big bodies who like to play down low, in the corners. Bobby, he's got one of the best set of hands in the League, probably, and Getzy, he just slows the game down to his pace and the way he wants to play. He's a guy that can find the open seam, open man, pretty easily. The three of us, we help each other out and we love playing together."

Perry may find it difficult to improve upon his personal statistics after last season's breakout, but his main focus is helping Anaheim return to being a Stanley Cup contender. He was part of the 2007 team that won the franchise's first championship, and the Ducks came within a game of the Western Conference Finals two years later.

Although they entered last spring's first-round series against the Nashville Predators with home-ice advantage, the Ducks expended a lot of energy in their late-season charge and Perry thinks that might have cost them.

"It definitely takes a toll, because you're playing playoff hockey for the last two months of the season," he said. "If we play the way we did at the end of the year throughout the whole year, and keep that consistency, we'll be alright."
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