The Canucks ring in the New Year with a visit from some old friends tonight when they host Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks.
An uninspired 5-0 loss to the Kings was certainly not the way the Canucks wanted to end 2015 but the good thing about turning the calendar page is it offers a chance to refocus and restart. With that said, the Canucks should be a motivated bunch when they take to the ice tonight as they not only look to bounce back from Monday's disappointing outing but also to welcome Kevin Bieksa back to Rogers Arena for the first time since the popular defenceman was traded in the off-season. This is also a critical match as far as the standings go. Vancouver begins play today sitting outside the playoff picture having been surpassed in recent days by the Sharks and Coyotes. A win tonight by either team would move them into a top-three spot in the division standings. Anaheim, fresh off a 1-0 victory last night in Edmonton, begins play today just one point behind Vancouver but holds two games in hand.
The Canucks have some good news and bad news on the injury front. Christopher Tanev, who has missed the last two games after suffering a foot injury in the waning moments of a win against the Lightning on December 22, rejoined the team for practice yesterday and could be ready to make his return tonight. The news is not as positive for forward Sven Baertschi, however, who suffered an upper-body injury in the loss to the Ducks and appears likely to sit out tonight. Jacob Markstrom will get the start for the Canucks while the Ducks may go with Frederik Andersen after John Gibson got the call yesterday. Gibson is coming off back-to-back shutout performances and the Ducks, as a team, have not allowed a goal in their last 157:34 of consecutive game play.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2015.16 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
It's not hard to see what the secret to Anaheim's success has been over the last month or so. Over their last 14 games, the Ducks have been held to two-or-fewer goals on all-but-two occasions. Usually that's a recipe for disaster but somehow the Ducks have managed to keep themselves above water posting a respectable, if unspectacular, 7-5-2 record during that stretch. Of those 14 games, netminder John Gibson has appeared in 13 of them while starting 12. Gibson has not allowed more than three goals in a single outing in any of his 14 appearances this season, which features four shutout performances including one against the Canucks back on November 30. While he hasn't exactly gotten a lot of run support from the skaters in front of him, you can't argue he's received a lot of defensive support. He's faced 24-or-fewer shots in 10 of his 14 appearances this season. Gibson is coming off back-to-back shutout performances but Vancouver may catch a break if the Ducks decide to go with Frederik Andersen tonight with Gibson having played last night in Edmonton. While Anaheim's offensive statistics are atrocious, they're among the best in the league in a number of other categories that demonstrate why they have been so good defensively including penalty kill (first at 88.0 percent) and faceoffs (tied for third overall at 51.4 percent).
As the second half of the season nears, the Ducks are hoping they'll find their missing offence at some point. No one would have imagined with the talent they have on paper they would find themselves dead last in the league in goals for averaging just 1.86 goals per game (the only team in the league to average fewer than two goals per game). Not all their players have been struggling, though, when it comes to offensive production. Sami Vatanen has bounced back nicely from an early-season slump and has been a consistent point producer from the back end. He's on pace to set a new career-high in points although the Ducks would like to see him find the net on the power play with more regularity. He has one power play goal this season after leading the team with seven a year ago. 22-year-old Rickard Rakell, who is in just his second full season with the Ducks, is also on pace to set a new career-high in points and is just two goals shy of equaling his career-high goal total of nine set last season.
Keys to the Game
Bo breaks out. No player is more overdue to bust his slump than Bo Horvat who has been one of the most noticeable players of late but is still riding a 26-game goal drought. He's essentially the team's number one faceoff-taking centre with Henrik Sedin banged up so it's critical he gets out of his funk sooner rather than later.
Feed off the emotion. Kevin Bieksa's return to Rogers Arena will have the fans buzzing and the Canucks will want to make sure they build off the energy in the building. The added attention might even serve to get the Anaheim defenceman off his game so that's something Vancouver could potentially take advantage of.
Don't believe the numbers. The stats will tell you the Ducks are awful on offence, but that doesn't mean the players have to believe that. Anaheim knows what it takes to score and they've demonstrated it on occasion this season including lighting up the Canucks four times back on November 30. Anaheim scored 8 goals in 3 visits to Rogers Arena last season.
Canucks Game Preview
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Ducks when playing on zero days rest (1-3-1; 0-2-1 in last three).
Goal scored by the Canucks in two games against the Ducks this season (Adam Cracknell).
Regulation loss for the Ducks against the Canucks in their last 13 head-to-head meetings (9-1-3).
Point (goal) for Anaheim's Ryan Kesler in his last 11 games.
Time the Ducks have played a New Year's Day game on the road. They have never played a new Year's Day home game.
The last time the Ducks played on New Year's Day. They beat Nashville 4-2. (All-time record 3-2-0).