It may have taken three months, but the Anaheim Ducks are finally playing like a team capable of defending their Stanley Cup title.
The Ducks try to match a season-high four-game winning streak Thursday night when they continue a four-game road trip against the Edmonton Oilers.
Hindered by the early season absence of starting goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Ducks (18-15-5) won only four of their first 13 games. They won a season-best four in a row from Nov. 9-17 before going 5-7-2 in their next 14 contests.
A stronger commitment to defense has helped Anaheim record points in four straight (3-0-1), a stretch that has included three consecutive wins during which it has allowed three goals.
Two of those three victories have come against San Jose, which along with Dallas are the two teams the Ducks are chasing in the Pacific Division.
Giguere stopped 27 shots and Chris Pronger had a goal and an assist in Anaheim's 5-2 victory at San Jose on Saturday.
Todd Bertuzzi, Corey Perry and Chris Kunitz also scored for the Ducks, who improved to 6-0-2 in their last eight meetings with the Sharks.
"It's always good when you play well against a division rival like this," Pronger said. "It was a big game for us to keep moving up the standings, and a step forward for us the way we've been playing the last few games, and getting back to playing the way we can."
The Ducks scored five goals after they were held to two or fewer in each of their previous five games.
"We're obviously not happy where we're at," said Bertuzzi, in his first season with Anaheim. "We've given a lot of points away, and it's a matter of playing the way we know how to play. I think we've figured out this is how we have to play in order to win, and this is how they played last year in order to win."
Getting star defenseman Scott Niedermayer back also has contributed to Anaheim's improved play. The Ducks are 3-0-1 since Niedermayer returned, and his presence has helped ease the burden on Pronger, who is tied for second on the team with 29 points.
The Oilers lost their third straight on Sunday, 3-2 at Chicago, but the loss of one of their top players could prove more costly.
Ales Hemsky left the game late in the second period because of a left knee injury after colliding with Chicago's Martin Lapointe. Hemsky - second on the team with 29 points - was to undergo an MRI but the team has not reported the results.
"It's was a dirty hit, there was no doubt about it," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "It's should have been at least 5 minutes. Now we've got one of our best guys having X-rays because of a guy who plays 10 minutes a game."
Losing Hemsky would be a very big blow to Edmonton (16-18-3), which ranks 28th in the league with 2.32 goals a game, including only six over the past four contests.
The Oilers have won all three meetings this season against the Ducks, outscoring them 12-3. Mathieu Garon is 2-0-0 with one shutout and a 0.96 goals-against average versus Anaheim.
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