Defenseman Ruslan Salei returned to the Duck lineup Oct. 29 after serving a 10-game suspension for the now-famous shove in the back that injured the Dallas Stars' Mike Modano.
But it took a while for Salei's game to return. He seemed a step slow, often late to arrive for checks along the boards or to fight for loose pucks.
Salei's timing was off because of the layoff. But there have been signs in the last few games that Salei's play has improved.
"I finally feel like my timing is back," he said before the Ducks' 2-1 loss Thursday to the Montreal Canadiens. "I was hoping it wasn't going to take me five games, but it did. I'm feeling better and better. I'm feeling comfortable again. I'm having fun again in the games."
That's good news for the Ducks, who need Salei's edgy style of play to win the small victories that usually add up to bigger ones.
Salei isn't the brute many portrayed him to be after the Oct. 2 game against Dallas. But his physical style is one of the reasons the Ducks have given up only 2.24 goals per game.
"He doesn't have a lot of big hits," Coach Craig Hartsburg said. "He wins his one-on-one battles. He's had some hits, but mostly he wins his battles. And he's strong around the net."
Hartsburg went with the same lineup Thursday as in Tuesday's 2-0 victory over Toronto--minus left wing Jim McKenzie, who broke his left hand against the Maple Leafs.
McKenzie, injured when he crashed heavily against the boards, returned to Anaheim to have his hand examined by team doctors. The Ducks expect to release the results of the tests today.
A victory over Montreal would have put the Ducks three games over the .500 mark at 9-6-2-1. They haven't been three games over .500 since last April.