Hard to believe, but it's been 401 days since the Ducks have played in front of fans at Honda Center, and they'll be welcomed with open arms tonight.
The Ducks will allow a limited capacity in their home arena when they play the Vegas Golden Knights in the start of a two-game set. It's the first of five remaining regular season home games in which the Ducks will play in front of a crowd of a little under 2,000 made up primarily of Orange Alliance Members (season ticket holders). For the Ducks players and coaches, seeing those fans for the first time since last season was shut down by the pandemic will be a sight for sore eyes, and hearing the cheers will be music to their ears.
"Fans bring energy," Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. "They bring this wave of emotion throughout games. They've been greatly missed in all the buildings, but especially ours. I'm sure our guys are thinking about it. I've heard them talking about it.
"Our veterans guys have been greatly affected by it. It's a real, real different feel for them to be out there in an empty building. It's going to be awesome to have our fans back, so they can get back in there and bring the energy we need."
For health and safety protocols regarding hosting fans at Honda Center, visit hondacenter.com/playitsafe.
Ryan Getzlaf has returned to the Ducks lineup after lingering back issues just in time to play in front of the home fans. We was back Wednesday night vs. the Sharks and scored the game's first goal, moving within seven points of Teemu Selanne's franchise record of 988.
Having fans back in the building also comes at a good time for the Ducks, if their recent play is any indication. They thoroughly dominated the Sharks in a two-game series San Jose, winning 4-0 Monday night and 4-1 on Wednesday. Backup goalie Anthony Stolarz was the hero in both, as his 46 saves on Monday night set a franchise record for a shutout. He had saved 71 straight Sharks shots before his second straight shutout bid was spoiled with 2:16 left in an already-decided game on Wednesday.
"I just want to keep going out there and showing that I can play in this league," Stolarz said. "Obviously there's a lot more hard work ahead, but I'm happy with the last couple games here."
It's not a stretch to admit the Ducks are out of playoff contention, but the desire and effort is still there and will be ramped up tonight in front of the Ducks faithful.
"It's in our blood no matter what the standings are to want to win," said Ducks winger Derek Grant, who scored his fifth goal of the season Wednesday night. "Our year hasn't been up to our standards, but you have to take strides and win as much as you can, especially down the stretch, and take steps toward next season because we don't want to be in this position again."
Vegas finds itself in a much more enviable position, holding firmly on second place in the Honda West division behind front-running Colorado. The Golden Knights come into Anaheim on a four-game winning streak that includes 4-2 and 6-2 victories earlier this week over the Kings in LA.
Anaheim and Vegas meet for the sixth of eight contests tonight, the first of three meetings in a span of nine days at Honda Center.