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GETTING DEFENSIVE : DUCKS BELIEVING HARTSBURG'S PHILOSOPHY.

Byline: Greg Christensen Staff Writer

Defense is becoming a religion of sorts with the Mighty Ducks.

Coach Craig Hartsburg is the high priest and his most devoted disciples go by the names of Kariya, Selanne and Rucchin.

Teemu Selanne, a former 76-goal scorer, has become such a zealot that his eyes light up when talking about playing

``I'd score five goals if we could win a Stanley Cup,'' Selanne said. ``Winning, that's what it is all about.''

``We've had individual awards and those are nice, but they don't mean anything because we haven't won (as a team),'' Paul Kariya added.

Recently, however, the Ducks have been winning. Anaheim is 5-1-2 in its past eight games and has moved four games over .500 (17-13-4-1) for the second time in franchise history. The team has allowed only 10 goals in the eight games and just four during its current four-game winning streak.

Anaheim comes into tonight's Pacific Division showdown with Phoenix allowing only 2.15 goals a game, second best in the NHL. The Ducks have limited teams to two goals or less in eight consecutive games and 22 times in the first 34 games.

Asked his impression of the team's lofty defensive status, center Steve Rucchin grinned and said ``surprised?''

Indeed, it has been a remarkable conversion for a team that gave up 3.2 goals a game under Pierre Page two seasons ago.

Hartsburg, a former defenseman, came to town with a mission, knowing that no team could be competitive in today's NHL giving up those kind of numbers. He began preaching, and preaching, and preaching defense - although he prefers to call his philosophy an ``all-round team game.''

Kariya also doesn't care to call the Ducks' system a defensive one.

``We are playing offense smarter,'' he said. ``We are not making the high-risk plays and turning the puck over.''

No matter what the system is called, the players have become converts to Hartsburg's methods.

``It was a huge sales job last year,'' Hartsburg said. ``But now they've had success the last year and a half.''

Anaheim cut its goals-against to 2.5 and made the playoffs last season, but it was a team that lived on the edge. The Ducks were outscored at even strength and lived and depended heavily on the league's No. 1 power play.

This year, the power play has struggled (tied for 25th), but the Ducks have outscored their opponents 66-46 at even strength.

``It's pretty scary to think where we could be if the power play was where it should be,'' said Rucchin.

But the defense was good enough to keep the Ducks afloat until their recent run when they started scoring the key goals that were nowhere to be found earlier in the season.

``I think they are taking pride in that part of the game,'' said Hartsburg, ``and that starts with Paul, Teemu and Rucchin. Our best players have bought into (the system) and if they buy into it there's no reason the other guys can't.''

``If we cheat and don't play both ends why should anybody else,'' said Kariya.

The No. 1 line's point production is down a little - Kariya has 33 points, Selanne 32 and Rucchin 22 - but when it comes to playing an all-round game, it's never played better. Kariya is NHL's plus/minus leader among forwards at plus-20, Selanne is plus-17 and Rucchin plus-12.

``Guys aren't concerned about personal success,'' Rucchin said. ``A lot of numbers are down, but as long as we win it doesn't matter.''

GETTING STINGY

Goals-against average each year for the Ducks:

93-94: 2.98

94-95: 3.42

95-96: 3.01

96-97: 2.84

97-98: 3.18

98-99: 2.54

99: 2.15

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

PHOTO (color) Teemu Selanne

BOX: Getting stingy (see text)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Dec 22, 1999
Words:631
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