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    Ducks finding defensive stability ahead of 5-game trip
    • March 25, 2024

    The Ducks migrated north for the final time this season, heading to Seattle for a pair of matches with the Kraken before a three-game swing through Western Canada.

    They just wrapped up their schedule against the Eastern Conference with Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coupled with a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, that might have given the Ducks something of a springboard into the trip despite having already been mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

    “We’re coming to the rink and we’re working hard trying to dial in all the details. There’s 11 games left,” winger Ross Johnston said. “If we do keep playing like that, we’ll be in a lot of games, so that’s all we can focus on.”

    Coach Greg Cronin said that greater continuity in forward lines and defensive pairings engendered defensive consistency. That’s also been the case on the penalty kill, which took a “nosedive,” Cronin said, after a slew of losses to its ranks before implementing new personnel and tactics. It’s gone eight of nine in its past three games, including a flawless three-for-three against Tampa’s ruthlessly efficient power play.

    “I thought the last two games, we were way more stable defensively,” Cronin said. “Guys are familiar with each other now. They get some stability and I just think we’re defending better.”

    Instilling a shot mentality in his group remained very much a work in progress, Cronin acknowledged, along with creating more frequent and longer forays into the offensive zone.

    The Ducks have been further limited recently by feeble production from their power play. It earned Frank Vatrano his 30th goal of the season late against Chicago during a five-on-three situation, but failed to capitalize on a more pivotal two-man advantage moment against Tampa Bay.

    Vatrano’s goal was one of just two with the extra man that the Ducks have managed in March, with their 6.3% conversion rate over that span the worst in the NHL. In February, a short month made shorter still by the All-Star break, the Ducks had the fifth-best power-play percentage in the league.

    “There’s been players in and out, so I think, in some ways, (assistant) Newell (Brown) has had a mixed bag a lot of times, so some of that is chemistry,” Cronin said. “It goes dry and then it gets hot again, so hopefully in the next 11 games we’ll see a hot streak.”

    Jumping off the themes of hot hands and moments to look forward to in the final 11 games, the Ducks’ top prospect, Cutter Gauthier, piled up seven points (three goals, four assists) between the Hockey East semi-final and final over the weekend. His Boston College squad triumphed again over rival Boston University and likely No. 1 overall pick Macklin Celebrini.

    Gauthier and associates will next compete in the NCAA Tournament, beginning with a first-round matchup against Michigan Tech on Friday in Providence. When their run wraps up, Gauthier will be expected to join the Ducks, though his Eagles might very well go the distance. If they advance to the April 13 final, Gauthier could only play one game for the Ducks.

    Boston College features three other stars who were drafted in the first round under Coach Greg Brown, a former New York Rangers assistant and longtime right-hand man of the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach, Jerry York.

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    “I spoke to Jerry York about (Gauthier) and he said he’s a pure goal-scorer that reminded him of [BC alumnus] Chris Kreider,” Cronin said.

    Though they’ll be without Gauthier for their sojourn in Seattle and excursions north of the border, the Ducks could get a dynamic offensive force (Trevor Zegras) and a stalwart defender (Radko Gudas) back from injury during the journey.

    It will begin with a rare instance in which they will play two consecutive road games against the same team in the same city, the Seattle Kraken. With their 29th-ranked offense placing just ahead of the Ducks’ (Jared McCann and Vince Dunn have been Seattle’s top producers), the Kraken have had to rely on a top-10 defense and goalie Joey Daccord, a journeyman turned emergent force in net.


    When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

    Where: Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle

    TV: Bally Sports SoCal

    ​ Orange County Register