A perfect California road trip is up for grabs for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they visit the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.
Having already dispatched the Los Angeles Kings before dropping the San Jose Sharks on Friday, the Maple Leafs hit Anaheim having won three straight games and eight of nine outings. The club that's lost only twice in its last 15 games (13-2-0) to rocket up the standings also has claimed six straight road affairs.
It's a far cry from the struggling team that won only twice in the first seven games of the campaign.
"We made it very clear, it's very much a business trip coming out here," coach Sheldon Keefe said of his team's West Coast sojourn. "That's not an easy thing to do, because it is a beautiful place to be and it's a great time to enjoy that as you start to move on to the winter months, but our guys have been focused. We've had enough time after practice to enjoy a few hours of sunlight."
The Maple Leafs have surrendered only 11 goals against in their last nine outings and have become a more complete team over the last month.
"I think we're seeing what's giving us success and the type of team we have," forward John Tavares said. "The way roles are developing and the way the chemistry is kind of building out. When (we're) having success and results and we're doing good things, we talk about having an extremely high standard and pushing that level. That's really what we want to be about."
The Ducks, who remain one of the league's biggest surprises as the season nears the end of its first quarter, returned to the win column on Friday with a decisive 4-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators, in which back-up goaltender Anthony Stolarz made 34 saves.
Anaheim's win snapped a three-game losing skid -- which came on the heels of its eight-game winning streak that sent a strong message to all of those who expected the Ducks to be a rebuilding squad headed for the bottom of the league standings.
With the win, Anaheim has won seven of eight home games and is third overall in the league with home-ice points (17) and tied for third in home wins (eight).
While the Ducks are succeeding thanks in big part to a crew of talented forwards making their mark in the likes of Troy Terry, Adam Henrique, Rickard Rakell and Trevor Zegras, as well as a rejuvenated veteran captain Ryan Getzlaf, they are improved greatly defensively, especially while short-handed.
The Ducks have killed 52 of 60 short-handed situations (86.7 percent), sixth-best in the NHL, and snuffed 29 of 31 short-handed situations in the last dozen games.
"It's quietly flying under the radar," coach Dallas Eakins said. "It's been excellent. (Assistant coach) Mike Stothers has brought an immense amount of detail and he never lets his foot off the gas. That's the one great thing about our special teams right now. Every day is a desperate day. Our killers are very well-prepared. The second part is our players are doing a great job on the ice.
"I think they're taking great pride in it. And, as always, you show me a great penalty kill and I'll show you great goalies. Both our goalies (John Gibson and Stolarz) have played very well."
--Field Level Media