"Unfinished Business" was the motto when the Anaheim Ducks opened camp this season.
A first-round playoff exit last season and a mediocre final month of the regular season left a sour taste for the Ducks, and had some people around the league wonder if their surprise Pacific Division title last season was more fluke than anything. Whether it was for the psyche of the team or to prove something to others, it made the start of this season incredibly important for the Ducks.
"Absolutely," Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau told ESPN.com Thursday. "We really talked about it in training camp. Our last 20 games in the regular season last year we were 8-8-4. We came to camp and we wanted to make sure we worked hard. And we went over all the teams in our division alone, we said, 'It's going to be very tough to make the playoffs.' It still is. We can't wait until February to turn on the juice. We've got to play every game like it's a playoff game. I think the guys really took to it."
Leading the overall standings with 27 points thanks to a 13-3-1 record certainly answers the call for a strong start -- and then some. And as Boudreau pointed out, they needed a strong start given the Pacific Division they play in, where San Jose, Phoenix, Vancouver and Los Angeles are hot on their trail.
No question, the star duo of Ryan Getzlaf (18 points) and Corey Perry (17 points) is doing its usual thing, leading the team in scoring, but what has made the difference in terms of consistency is the ability of the support group to provide impact, the likes of forwards Mathieu Perreault (14 points), Nick Bonino (10 points) and Dustin Penner (team-leading plus-15).
In fact, of the 17 Ducks forwards who have dressed for at least a game this season, all but one of them have averaged double digits in ice time, a testimony to the way Boudreau rolls four lines, more than many teams.
"I've always believed in the Boston philosophy, that you can't win with just two lines, or three lines, that you need four lines going," Boudreau said, crediting GM Bob Murray for giving him the assets to employ four lines.
"Last night, our fourth line had 12 goals combined on the season. That's pretty good," said Boudreau, referring to a unit comprised Wednesday night of Emerson Etem, Bonino and Kyle Palmieri -- all with four goals each on the season. All of which happening while the likes of Jakob Silfverberg, Saku Koivu and Matt Beleskey are out with injuries up front.
"We need this depth," Boudreau said. "We could tell in training camp, we really thought we had 17 forwards who can play in the NHL."
On defense, aside from the usual top-notch play of Cam Fowler and Francois Beauchemin, you’ve got the likes of 19-year-old rookie Hampus Lindholm (plus-13, 19:14 minutes per game) and veteran Bryan Allen (plus-10, 18:48 minutes per game) contributing without as much fanfare.
"I am so happy with Bryan Allen," Boudreau said. "To me he’s been our best defenseman all year. This year, it's like a total rejuvenation. He feels comfortable, he's playing important minutes, he's played along young kids [mostly with Sami Vatanen this season].
"Bryan has done so many good things. I've been so impressed with him, probably more than anybody else on our team."
In short, the Ducks are more of an actual team than in the past when they relied so heavily on their top players to do it all.
"They’re four lines deep, they have a lot of youth who got great experience last year, as a team they're building off last year," an Eastern Conference team executive told ESPN.com Thursday. "They're deep in goal. Their strength is that they don't have any real, obvious weaknesses. The Ducks don't fall off in any particular area. There's solid depth behind the bigger names. I think they're for real."
It's a tip of the hat to Murray, who without being a team that spends up to the maximum under the salary cap, has rebuilt the base around the big stars on the roster.
"Bob Murray has done an unbelievable job there, this team is built for the long term," said the team executive.
Added a Western Conference team executive: "Their young guys have grown a lot over the past two years. They've done a good job there, nice balance, solid depth, they're going to be a good team for a while."