By Kyle Shohara
The wait is finally over.
After nearly three weeks since their most recent game, the Ducks get back to action tonight as they host the St. Louis Blues at Honda Center (7 p.m. PT, Prime Ticket, AM 830).
Every team except the Ducks has played at least once since the conclusion of the Olympics, including the Blues, who dropped a 1-0 contest in Vancouver two nights ago. The Ducks will have to fight rust in tonight’s game, something head coach Bruce Boudreau is well aware of having watched the games around the league over the past few days.
“It’s the first game in 20 days for a lot of teams with no preseason games,” he said. “Most of them have only practiced with 11 or 12 players. You add it all up and it adds to mistakes.”
Miscues will have to be few and far between against the physically punishing Blues, who come into tonight’s game just three points behind Anaheim with two games in hand.
But the Ducks have found success against the Blues, having won the first two games of the season series, both in St. Louis. Boudreau says his team’s starts have been crucial in those victories.
“Statistically, we’ve jumped into the lead and made them play catch up,” he said. “They’re a pretty hard team to play against if you’re trying to catch up against them. It’s important to get a lead on them. We’ve been just lucky enough to hold on in both games.”
Boudreau also says the Ducks have had the edge between the pipes.
“Both games have been real wars out there, but I thought we’ve had a little bit better goaltending in the first two games.”
GOOD TO BE BACK
As refreshing as the 10-day mandated break was for many of the Ducks, there’s a sense of excitement heading into tonight’s game. The players know this is the time to generate momentum leading up to the postseason.
“Everybody is excited,” said Saku Koivu. “Guys are anxious to get back. With only having 22 games left, we’ll try to get things going right away. And what a better opportunity than starting at home against St. Louis battling for the top spot.”
Matt Beleskey said the break felt like a “mini summer vacation,” but a good 10 days of practice has his teammates fired up for the final push to the playoffs.
“It’s been a long time, but we’re excited,” he said. “We’ve worked hard this week, and we’re ready to go. There’s no leeway for mistakes or slow play. We have to be ready to go tonight.”
LEARNING FROM THE PAST
Much like this season, the 2012-13 campaign saw the Ducks at or near the top of the standings through three-quarters of the way, only to fizzle for the final 20 games. In those games, the Ducks only managed to go 8-8-4, and were bounced in the first round by the seventh-seed Detroit Red Wings.
It was a learning experience for the Ducks, who today find themselves sitting atop the NHL with 87 points (41-14-5).
“We’ve been talking about it all season,” said Beleskey. “We’ve been talking about getting better every day and improving as a team. We want to be on a roll when we get to the playoffs. That’s our goal.”
“We want to keep improving our game individually and as a team,” said defenseman Francois Beauchemin. “We want to be at the top of our level when we get to the playoffs.”
EXPECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
Dustin Penner-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon-Mathieu Perreault-Teemu Selanne
Daniel Winnik-Saku Koivu-Andrew Cogliano
Matt Beleskey-Nick Bonino-Tim Jackman
Cam Fowler-Ben Lovejoy
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Bryan Allen-Mark Fistric
Jonas Hiller is expected to get the start in net.
The Ducks have won the first two games of the season set in St. Louis, including a 5-2 win on Dec. 7 and 3-2 victory on Jan. 18. The Ducks own a 35-32-10 all-time record vs. St. Louis (20-15-2 at home) and are led by Teemu Selanne’s 61 points (25g/26a) in 72 career games against the Blues. The Ducks have won a franchise-record six straight home games over the Blues dating to Jan. 7, 2010.