The Duck defense figured to take a hit when Ruslan Salei and Pascal Trepanier were suspended by the NHL for illegal checks against Dallas centers Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk on Oct. 2.
But the defense has been perhaps the steadiest part of the Ducks' game this season. Only once in seven games have the Ducks given up more than three goals, and that was in a 4-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
To be sure, the Ducks miss Salei's edgy style of play. Salei has four games left to serve on his 10-game suspension and won't be eligible to play until Oct. 29 against the Washington Capitals.
"We miss his strength," Coach Craig Hartsburg said. "He wins his one-on-one battles and he's strong around the net."
Pavel Trnka, in particular, has improved his play during Salei's absence. Plus, Trepanier returned Saturday from his five-game suspension.
"He's more confident and more assertive in his play," Hartsburg said of Trnka. "I think he's taken a step up in his play. It's a pretty good fit with him and Oleg [Tverdovsky as a defense pairing]. Like a lot of our young players, he's getting more and more confident in his game."
Defenseman Fredrik Olausson, sidelined by a sprained left ankle Saturday against Florida, practiced Monday and may be fit to play tonight against the Capitals. . . . Hartsburg moved center Steve Rucchin between wingers Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne on the top line in the third period Saturday. But it was only a temporary move. Hartsburg is expected to keep center Matt Cullen on the top line and Rucchin on the second for the long haul.
4 PDT, Fox Sports West 2
* Site--MCI Center.
* Radio--XTRA (690).
* Records--Ducks 3-4-0-1, Capitals 2-2-1.
* Record vs. Capitals--(1998-99) 1-1.
* Update--Washington's defense was roughed up in a 3-2 loss Saturday to San Jose. Sergei Gonchar needed 17 stitches to close a cut on his face after he was accidentally cross-checked in the face by San Jose's Ron Sutter. Gonchar may play tonight. But Brendan Witt, who suffered a knee injury Saturday, is expected to be sidelined for about a week. Capital Coach Ron Wilson is 2-2 against the Ducks, his former team.