The Anaheim Ducks have quietly been rolling over the NHL, and that's exactly how coach Bruce Boudreau likes it.
At 38-10-5 through 53 games, the Ducks are on top of the league with 81 points going into Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium. It's an outdoor game, but without the spotlight of HBO's "24/7" show that preceded the Winter Classic, the Ducks have been able to do all this without a ton of fanfare.
"We've been pretty anonymous out in Anaheim, quite frankly," Boudreau said in a phone interview. "Until it's now, I guess, becoming a little bit more national with what's going on, we've been just sitting there and going about our business."
Going about their business has meant winning 19 of their past 22 games. The Ducks have just one regulation loss at home and the most road victories in the league.
Captain Ryan Getzlaf is tied for third in scoring with 59 points, while Corey Perry is fifth with 56. As a team, Anaheim is third is goals per game and also in the top 10 in fewest goals allowed.
"I think all the stars are aligned right," Boudreau said. "But it all starts with good goaltending. We've had as many breakdowns as the other teams, but our goalies have been really good and we've been very opportunistic when we get the opportunities. It's a good combination to have."
It's also good for the Ducks that they can combine a veteran group of players with a coach who has been through a similar situation before.
Boudreau led the Washington Capitals to a 121-point season in 2009-10, winning the Southeast Division by an unprecedented 38 points and the Presidents' Trophy along the way. But they also lost in the first round of the playoffs to goaltender Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens.
Four years later, Boudreau has learned from some of his mistakes and also sees the Ducks as a different kind of team.
"In Washington it was really the first time anybody on that team had gone through something like that. We were really living in the moment," he said. "Now on this team, with the leadership that they have and the guys that have won the Cup it's: 'Hey, we've done nothin' yet. Just stay grounded and keep working hard and good things will come.' So I think we don't have the ups and downs mentally that we had with that team."
Getzlaf, Perry, Teemu Selanne and Francois Beauchemin are still around from 2007, when Anaheim won the Stanley Cup five months before Boudreau became an NHL head coach.
"Dustin Penner might be a little aloof sometimes, but he's won two Cups," Boudreau said. "He knows what it takes to get it done. The leadership group I think we have is really, really good. They don't let people think that they're too good or whatever, and if we're cheering too loud, they say, 'Hey, settle down. We haven't done nothin'."
That Capitals team hadn't accomplished anything beyond regular-season success, either. Washington used a furious late-season run to make the playoffs in 2008, then came one victory away from the Eastern Conference final in 2009 before losing to the eventual Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Aside from that, the make-up and style of these Ducks is different in Boudreau's eyes.
"We're better defensively as a whole than that Caps team and, I think, more conscientious about it than the Caps team," he said. "Back then the really good players were young, and they just wanted to go. They were so talented, and we would get out to a 4-0 lead or something and end up winning the game 6-4 because we'd let up in the third period because it's hard when you got a big lead to keep playing with that pace."
The Ducks have managed to keep up a winning pace for a while now. As Boudreau pointed out, Anaheim has excelled in one-goal games — an NHL best 20-2-5 so far.
Goaltending has a lot to do with that, specifically Jonas Hiller shouldering the load as Viktor Fasth has spent much of the season on injured reserve. Hiller has been good, going 23-6-4 and putting up a 2.41 goals-against average. But Anaheim might not be in first place in the Pacific Division if not for 24-year-old rookie Frederik Andersen, who has a .933 save percentage and 1.87 GAA.
General manager Bob Murray credited his scouts for drafting Andersen and blue-chip goaltending prospect John Gibson. Earlier this season Murray said scouts were "all over" him to grab Andersen in the third round in 2012.
But the build toward this kind of success started well before then, dating to the 2007 Cup run, making Getzlaf the captain in 2010 and hiring Boudreau in 2011. Murray likened the "transition period" of Getzlaf as captain to Steve Yzerman going through the same thing with the Detroit Red Wings.
"Getzy sometimes thinks too much," Murray said. "I think Getzy's over that now. Everything's not a huge problem anymore. He just plays."
With Getzlaf leading the way, the Ducks have had a handful of statement victories amid the anonymity. One of those came last week when they obliterated the Vancouver Canucks 9-1.
Boudreau was proud that when Selanne scored Anaheim's eighth goal, there was no celebration. The Ducks kept playing because "we don't want to cheat the fans," but "we don't want to embarrass a team."
"It might happen to us one day," he said. "I know how bad it feels and I know how long memories are."
Boudreau's memory goes back at least four years, and he knows the Ducks haven't done anything yet.
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