LOS ANGELES -- There was no light bulb moment when the Anaheim Ducks realized they could escape the muck they had created with their poor defensive play, no game or goal that turned their season around.
"But somewhere along the way they started to become a team and they got an identity," General Manager Bob Murray said. "There's a little bit of chemistry there at the moment.
"But that leaves you easily, too."
In a league where inconsistency is the norm for all but the deepest teams, the Ducks have been all over the map. They were 4-7-1 at the end of October, won six games in a row and promptly lost six consecutive games. They would get strong goaltending from Jonas Hiller but couldn't score, or they'd score but their defense would give games away.
A 5-1 home stand and overall 7-2 surge -- accomplished without Ryan Getzlaf, who broke facial bones Dec. 28 -- have put them in a playoff position in the tight West. They've played more games than anyone else and could be overtaken, but they're in the mix, which seemed impossible early this season.
"This last little home stretch was pretty good for us. We started doing the right things," said defenseman Toni Lydman, whose +25 defensive rating is the NHL's second best. "We worked a little harder, and especially smarter."
Teemu Selanne, who scored his 1,300th point Sunday, said improved defensive play has boosted the team's confidence.
"That's pretty much everything. And it starts from everybody individually has to do his job," he said. "And we were talking before this long home stretch that this is a good time to take advantage of the schedule. And we lost only one game, so obviously we did a lot of good things."
If they want to retain a playoff spot they must keep those good things going on the road, where they play eight of their next nine games.
"Hopefully, we use this confidence there because we have to raise our level when we go (on the road)," Selanne said.
CROSBY STILL AILING
NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby, who has sat out five games because of a concussion, is still experiencing problems. His agent, Pat Brisson, said Monday that the Pittsburgh Penguins center "is progressing well but not symptom-free, which is the most important sign he needs before resuming physical activities."
It's unclear how that will affect Crosby's participation in the NHL All-Star Game, to be played Jan. 30 in Raleigh, N.C.
Florida defenseman Bryan McCabe broke his jaw and other facial bones when he was hit by a puck in the first period Saturday against New Jersey, yet sat out only one shift. The next day McCabe -- who had been playing despite a broken finger -- underwent surgery on his face. He's expected to be out for two weeks.
The Kings and Ducks are in discussions to play in the NHL's Premiere games next season in Europe. They met twice in London in 2007. Washington, Edmonton, Buffalo and the New York Rangers are also candidates. Finland seems a logical destination for the Ducks with Selanne in their lineup or to honor him in his homeland. Moscow is a likely addition to showcase Washington's Alexander Ovechkin.
Detroit center Mike Modano, who suffered a lacerated tendon in his right wrist and underwent surgery Nov. 27, is skating lightly and is aiming for an early-March return, slightly ahead of schedule.