Jason Brough

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 19:  Tyler Kennedy #48 of the New Jersey Devils takes the puck as Ryan Kesler #17 of the Anaheim Ducks defends on December 19, 2015 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.The Anaheim Ducks defeated the New Jersey Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Ducks have found their ‘identity,’ and it’s ‘defense first’

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The past few years, the big question a lot of people had about the Anaheim Ducks was whether they were good enough defensively.

In that way, the Ducks were a bit like this year’s Dallas Stars. You knew they could score, but you wondered about their ability to win tight-checking, low-scoring games in the playoffs.

Things couldn’t be much different this year. Almost halfway through the season, the Ducks have scored the fewest goals in the NHL. After a horrendous start, it’s been defense that’s gotten them back into a playoff position.

“We’ve found our identity,” center Ryan Kesler told the L.A. Times. “I think with this team it starts with defense first and then we’re going to create off that.”

Since the beginning of December, Anaheim has won seven games. Here are the scorelines: 1-0, 2-1, 2-1, 4-2, 1-0, 1-0, and 4-1.

What’s it like to play the Ducks now?

“It was extreme, the biggest trap we’ve seen all year,” Calgary d-man Mark Giordano told Sportsnet. “When we had possession, they fell back.”

And the Flames managed just 14 shots in a 1-0 Anaheim win.

It may not be the prettiest hockey to watch, but for coach Bruce Boudreau, it beats losing.

“What does a coach have to do?” he said. “You do what you have to do to win.”

Boudreau, of course, went through something remarkably similar during his time as head coach of the Washington Capitals. At first, he was criticized because the high-flying Caps didn’t play with enough commitment to defense. Later, he was criticized because they got away from their run-and-gun waysRegardless of the style they played, the Caps couldn’t win when it counted, and that cost Boudreau his job.

Earlier this season, after the Ducks started out 1-7-2, many expected Boudreau to once again pay the price with his job. However, GM Bob Murray chose patience over “rash changes.”

It still remains to be seen whether that was the right decision, but at the very least things are starting to trend in the right direction.

Anaheim is one game into what could be a season-defining eight-game home stand. The Ducks beat the Jets, 4-1, on Sunday. They host Toronto on Wednesday.

Related: Unable to score, Ducks are clogging it up real good

Benning says Canucks have ‘too much pride’ to tank

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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The Vancouver Canucks have won just 15 games this season.

Do you know how many teams have fewer wins than that?

Not a one.

Philadelphia, Toronto, Buffalo, and Columbus also have just 15 victories.

Hence the growing feeling among much of the Canucks fanbase that the best thing for the future of this franchise would be to keep losing, sell at the trade deadline, and get a blue-chip prospect in the draft, possibly even Auston Matthews.

The worst-case scenario for those who feel that way would be another first-round playoff exit, just like last year.

Management, however, feels otherwise.

“I understand the thinking in that, but we have too much pride in this organization,” GM Jim Benning told TSN 1040 radio this morning. “That’s just not an option for us. We’re going to go out and compete hard every night and try to win games.”

And if they go out again in the first round? Because thanks to their membership in the Pacific Division, that’s a distinct possibility. 

In that case, Benning — who won a Stanley Cup in Boston with a roster chock-full of savvy draft picks — is willing to bank the Canucks’ future on his abilities as a talent evaluator.

“I’m confident in the job that we’re going to do scouting,” he said. “Wherever we pick we’re going to get a good player in the first round.”

Related: Canucks ownership not veering from plan to remain ‘competitive’

Desperate Rangers make changes for tonight’s game against ‘elite’ Stars

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No shortage of storylines for the reeling New York Rangers when they host the Dallas Stars tonight.

Let’s start with Jayson Megna, the 25-year-old forward who was called up yesterday from the AHL. Megna will make his Rangers debut. The undrafted Florida native has 48 games of NHL experience with Pittsburgh.

“We’ve had some really good reports from our guys in Hartford on how he’s been playing,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said this morning. “Very consistent at both ends of the ice. Very competitive.”

Megna has seven goals and 11 assists in 34 games for the offensively challenged Wolf Pack.

Then there’s forward Kevin Hayes, set to return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past two games.

“We need him to play well for us,” said Vigneault. “Kevin has all the possibilities. He’s got great tools, we all know it. He’s got to find a way to put it all together.”

The Rangers will be without winger Chris Kreider against the high-flying Stars, due to a cut on his hand. He’s considered day-to-day. Emerson Etem is expected to be a healthy scratch.

As for tonight’s opponents, Vigneault knows it won’t be easy.

“We know we’re playing against an elite team, one of the best teams in the NHL,” he said. “So you’ve got to bring your best game tonight. You’ve got to get the timely saves, you’ve got to get the timely goals, and work your butt off. That’s what we’re going to try and do.”

The Rangers are 5-11-2 since starting the season 16-3-2, and their playoff cushion has fallen to just two points.

Sweeney explains Pastrnak assignment to AHL

New Jersey Devils v Boston Bruins
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David Pastrnak was assigned to AHL Providence because the Boston Bruins needed his roster spot for tonight’s game against the Washington Capitals.

The assignment didn’t mean that Pastrnak’s first game after returning from the World Juniors will definitely be in the AHL. Providence doesn’t play until Friday. Boston plays that same night in New Jersey.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney explained this morning that Pastrnak “arrived yesterday afternoon, he’ll skate today and we’ll re-evaluate.” Tonight’s game against the Caps could see the return of forward Joonas Kemppainen, which would put the B’s at the 23-man roster limit.

“Really, it’€™s a matter of we play tonight, Joonas in all likelihood will come off IR, so our roster is what it is at this point in time,” Sweeney said, per WEEI. “We’€™ll make a decision going forward, and David will be a part of that process.”

The reason all this is such a big deal? It’s because the Bruins are suddenly struggling. They’ve lost four of their last five in regulation, including an extremely disappointing performance at home in the Winter Classic.

On top of that, two of their top forwards — the injured David Krejci and the suspended Brad Marchand — are currently unavailable. That could mean Ryan Spooner centering the second line, with Landon Ferraro on his wing, tonight against the Caps.

Pastrnak, 19, has only played 10 games for the B’s this season due to a foot injury. He has two goals and two assists.

Related: Pastrnak’s weak clearance draws Julien’s ire

‘Smart player’ Cullen has been a fit with Malkin and Kessel

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Chemistry can be a tough thing to predict. We’ve seen it time and time again in the NHL. A player that’s supposedly a good fit with another player just isn’t.

And then there are the cases of vice-versa.

For example, Matt Cullen. He’s 39 years old. The Pittsburgh Penguins signed him in August to a one-year, $800,000 deal. “He will play an important role on our fourth line,” said GM Jim Rutherford at the time.

And yet where is Cullen today? He’s playing left wing on the second line with two of the highest-paid players in the game, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

“Matt’s just a guy that’s a smart player,” coach Mike Sullivan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s played with offensive guys in his career. I think because he’s responsible in all three zones, and the way he plays, and he still has the ability to think the game on their level. I think he can help that line. And so far it’s been pretty good.”

In Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Islanders, Cullen didn’t look out of place assisting on the game’s opening goal by Kessel.

That being said, he knows this could just be a temporary thing.

“You know there’s so many ups and downs to the season, things change a lot,” he said. “It’s fun to be here where I am, but the biggest thing is that we’re winning games.”

The Penguins  — 4-1-1 in their last six — host the Blackhawks tonight before tomorrow’s rematch in Chicago (on NBCSN).