Since losing their opener at Colorado, the Ducks have won four straight games and have matched the best start in club history with eight points. But if last season should teach them anything, it's that how you finish is more important than how you start.
The Ducks lost only twice in regulation in their first 16 games and peaked at 22-3-4 after beating the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks on March 20. Their subsequent letdown was dramatic: They were 8-9-2 to finish the lockout-shortened season and, although they were first in the Pacific Division and seeded No. 2 in the West, their first-round playoff loss to the hitting-their-stride Detroit Red Wings wasn't much of an upset.
Travel, parity and a punishing schedule that includes an interruption for the Sochi Olympics will make it difficult to sustain excellence. But the Ducks say they've learned their lesson and this season hope to maintain a pace that's quicker and more consistent.
"The last four games we've been playing at a different speed than we're accustomed to, than we have been playing in the past," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We're playing faster and I think our balance is really good up front on the four lines. So I like those things."
Right wing Corey Perry, who scored all three of his goals and all six of his points in the last four games, agreed an up-tempo style can benefit the Ducks.
"We're going to play that quick game. We're going to forecheck teams. And we're going to turn over pucks," Perry said. "If we keep doing that and build on what we're doing and getting better each and every game, it's going to be the same thing as last year, but hopefully we'll go a little bit longer."
Goaltender Jonas Hiller, who is 3-0-0 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in his three starts this season, said the team "didn't find an extra gear in the playoffs" last spring. That can't happen again.
"I don't know if it was because we were satisfied or if it was just because we had a tough year, but I think everybody has another year on their back and has a little more experience," he said. "And I think everybody remembers how we felt after that Detroit series and I don't think we want to feel like that."
More scrutiny for fighting
The United States Hockey League, a Tier I league that feeds players to colleges and eventually the pros, announced Monday it will consider adopting tougher fighting penalties. That's good. Too bad it didn't happen until Dubuque defenseman Dylan Chanter suffered a seizure Saturday after he was involved in a fight and his unhelmeted head struck the ice.
Thankfully, Chanter is out of the hospital and resting at the home of his host family in Dubuque, Iowa. "He was feeling much better Sunday," team spokesman Zach Fisch said.
USHL President and Commissioner Skip Prince acknowledged the injury "was the accidental and unintended outcome of an infraction that resulted in a fighting major penalty to both players." Prince added, "still it raises the question as to whether those penalties should have been, or should in the future be made even more severe in order to curtail them from occurring."
Fighting is punished in the college ranks with a major penalty, ejection and suspension for the next game. Which leads to the question of why it isn't treated the same way in the USHL, whose mission is to prepare players for college hockey. The USHL's penalties should be even tougher because its players are younger.
Prince also said the USHL will work with USA Hockey "to determine how to further reduce dangerous play generally, and this type of incident in particular." A commendable sentiment, one that must be carried out before someone else is gravely injured.
New York Rangers forward Rick Nash, who suffered a head injury on a hit by San Jose's Brad Stuart last week, was placed on injured reserve. Stuart got a three-game suspension that concludes Tuesday, after the Sharks (5-0-0) play at St. Louis. ... Forward Nail Yakupov, chosen No. 1 by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2012 entry draft, was a healthy scratch Saturday and is expected to be a spectator again Tuesday. The move triggered rumors he might return to his native Russia to play in the KHL, but Edmonton media reports say the rumors aren't true. ... Congratulations go to Kings right wing Justin Williams for recording his 500th NHL point on Sunday. He's a consummate professional and stand-up guy who faces the media win or lose. ... Rookie defenseman Seth Jones has been one of the Nashville Predators' best players so far. The No. 4 pick in last June's entry draft is averaging 23 minutes and 30 seconds of ice time per game, most recently paired with veteran Shea Weber.