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Depth paying off for flying Ducks

So raise your hand if you aren't a fan of the Anaheim Ducks but had them making the playoffs this season.

Right, thought so.

Certainly not this guy.

And while a lot of hockey remains to be played in this shortened season, somewhat lost under the radar nationally has been Anaheim's surprisingly excellent 6-1-1 start.

Where to start with this batch of darling Ducks? You've got Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray playing their best hockey in half a decade, youngsters Kyle Palmieri and Nick Bonino finding their stride, the Ducks actually rolling four lines and a goalie named Viktor Fasth looking like Pelle Lindbergh.

All of this, and 2010-11 Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry has yet to find his offensive groove (1 goal).

"We're playing as a team, that's the biggest thing," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau told ESPN.com Tuesday. "It's fun when you watch a team win and the players are all excited. I think the mixture of youth and veteran players is pretty good right now."

Said an executive from a Western Conference team: "First of all, Gabby's a good coach. And there's an awful lot of experience on that team when you're talking about [Ryan] Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry, [Saku] Koivu, [Teemu] Selanne and Souray. I'm not that surprised by their start. It wasn't that long ago the Anaheim Ducks were one of the teams to beat in the Western Conference. They're real physical and talented and they're obviously going right now, that's for sure."

The Ducks begin a six-game road trip Wednesday night in Colorado that will be a huge early-season test, which is even more reason why they needed to bank those 13 points in the standings.

An intriguing emerging subplot that will no doubt play out on this road trip is, just who will be in goal from night to night? Jonas Hiller has been entrenched as the No. 1 goalie for the four seasons before this year but the unheralded Fasth, a 30-year-old who played in the Swedish elite league the past few years, is getting a chance as well.

"He keeps reminding me of Dwayne Roloson," Boudreau said of Fasth, who was undrafted by the NHL and signed by the Ducks as a free agent in May. "Rollie never got to the NHL until he was 30 and then had a great NHL career. I didn't know what this guy was going to be. He went to Norfolk for three games because he had never played North American hockey before and he did tremendous. He's been really good since he's been here. It makes for a really good goalie tandem."

You can read into it that Boudreau is ready to give Fasth a real shot at earning starts if he keeps playing well. So far he's 3-0-0 with a .946 save percentage and 1.30 goals-against average and Hiller is 3-1-1 with a 3.54 GAA and .871 save percentage.

Just don't call it a goalie controversy.

"I don't know if anything's brewing. Fasth is playing really good, Hilly's playing really good in spots but not so well in the others," said Boudreau. "It took a while for Hilly to find his game last year but when he did, from January on, he was almost impossible to beat. So when you have another goalie playing well until Hilly finds his groove ... if you have two guys, you don't have to worry in goal. I think we play 27 games in 46 nights after this road trip here. We can just go one goalie one night and one goalie the other. That's the ideal situation. But we'll play to win and whoever is playing the best will play."

Regardless of who's in goal, there's an improved blue line playing in front of them. Ducks GM Bob Murray was second-guessed by many when he added Souray and Bryan Allen last summer, but they've been real solid early on.

"The key this summer was that we wanted to be bigger on defense and we did that with Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen, for sure," Beauchemin told ESPN.com Tuesday. "Both are real solid and physical."

And then there's Beauchemin himself, leading the Ducks in ice time at 23:01 minutes per game.

When I suggested to him that it's the best I've seen him play in a few years, Beauchemin cut in and went further.

"In my opinion, probably my best hockey since the [2007] Stanley Cup," said the 32-year-old blueliner.

"I'm not sure really why," he added. "I had shoulder surgery last May and had a lot of time to rehab. The months off during the lockout helped me out to get back from that. I worked out hard. I feel really good both in the offensive end and the defensive end. I've always liked the challenge of playing against the other team's top players. Sheldon Souray and I have been getting that matchup the last few games and it's been fun."

Boudreau said he held video sessions with Beauchemin after the first two games because he didn't feel those were good ones on the defenseman's part.

Since then?

"The last six games, he's been just outstanding, where I've really noticed a difference," said the Ducks coach.

Up front, Anaheim is a different team. For years the knock on the Ducks is that they were too top-heavy with their reliance on their top two lines led by Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and the ageless Teemu Selanne. So far this season the third and fourth lines are contributing, particularly the third unit of Saku Koivu between Andrew Cogliano and newcomer Daniel Winnik (another winner of a move by Murray last summer).

What you have, finally, is balance up front.

"Absolutely," said Beauchemin. "When you have players on your third and fourth lines bringing some offense, it's always a huge plus. We missed that kind of depth the last few years. Our third line this year has been really, really good. They do their job defensively but also spend a lot of time in the offensive zone."

"I think you can't win unless you roll four lines," added Boudreau.

Part of that depth up front includes contributions from youngsters such as Palmieri (4 goals), Bonino (3 goals) and Emerson Etem (2 assists in four games).

"And we're putting them in real positions -- Etem was out there with two minutes to go the other night, Bonino is out there on penalty killing, Palmieri is being used on the power play," said Boudreau. "When we've had [Rickard] Rakell in the lineup or [Devante] Smith-Pelly, we've had no issues using them either. All those young guys are going to be good players. But you can only learn by playing them and letting them make mistakes and hoping the mistakes don't cost you."

Lurking in the shadows, however, of this great tale so far in Anaheim are two gigantic business decisions.

Perry and Getzlaf will be unrestricted free agents in July. The fact that the Ducks could be sitting in a playoff spot ahead of the April 3 trade deadline makes all of this even more complex a decision if both players aren't yet signed. Just look last season at New Jersey with Zach Parise and Nashville with Ryan Suter. Both were playoff-bound, so the teams stood pat despite the uncertainty of their contract futures.

Keeping the Perry/Getzlaf contract situations as a minimum distraction will be paramount for the Ducks all season long.

"Since the beginning of the season nobody is talking about that in the dressing room," said Beauchemin. "We're focused only on the task at hand. It hasn't been a distraction for anybody. When Corey and Ryan decide to negotiate or to sign, that's their decision. But we're just focused on what we need to do to win and what we need to do on the ice. We're not focused on anything else."

Boudreau, for one, said it has never come up in his discussions with Perry and Getzlaf.

"I don't approach it at all," said Boudreau. "I haven't talked to them about anything concerning that. I've never talked to any potential unrestricted free agents about anything. They're pros. And I know one thing: There's not too many guys that care more than both of these guys."