|(Insert shark metaphor here.)
will indeed be in the lineup tonight as the Ducks try to continue a somewhat surprising streak of dominance over their rivals from NoCal.
Anaheim has only 10 wins this season, but three of them have come against the San Jose Sharks, including a 3-2 win in San Jose on the day after Christmas. For whatever reason, those Sharks have brought out the best in Anaheim this season.
"It's a team like LA that we don't like to lose to," said Nick Bonino
, who was drafted by the Sharks, but came to Anaheim in a trade deadline deal in 2009. "So far we've won every one and tonight is going to be just as hard, if not harder, than the last. You kind of know their tendencies and they know ours. They don't want to lose to the Ducks four in a row. They're definitely going to come out wanting to beat us."
Anaheim has for the most part pulled off those previous three wins without second-line winger Blake, who was knocked out of the 1-0 win on October 14 when defenseman Brent Burns stepped on his arm, causing ligament damage above the left wrist. After missing 35 games, Blake confirmed this morning what was already assumed -- he'll be back in there tonight.
"It feels good, it feels strong," he said following the morning skate. "I guess you'll never know until you get into a game. You look back three months ago, this is the team is happened against, so it's kind of ironic.
"It's nice to get back and play hockey and obviously being around the guys. That's what you miss most. We have such a good group of guys here, you just want to get int there and contribute and play well."
Bruce Boudreau was asked if Blake's presence will add a much-needed "boost" to the Ducks tonight and he laughed when he replied, "That's the oldest line in pro sports, I know that." But, he continued, "he'll give us a boost. You know Jason, he's full of energy. He'll play hard. He always does."
Blake will presumably return to his second line spot with Teemu Selanne
and Saku Koivu
, with whom he's skated the last couple of days. Boudreau said he'll try to limit his minutes, but will let the flow of the game dictate just how much. "We'd like to not have to play him more than 14 or 15 minutes, but we'll see how the game goes," he said. "The one things about Jason is he's always in tremendous shape. If he's feeling great and playing great, I'm not going to hold to that. I'll let him go as long as he can."
Blake has had to watch the Ducks' struggles mostly from afar, but seems so happy just to get back on the ice, he's keeping a good perspective.
"We've got a lot of hockey left and strange things can happen," he said. "The biggest thing for the Ducks is to worry about the Ducks and not anything else. Don't look at the standings and just play. You've got to win hockey games. The onus is on the players. We have to make sure we're ready to play. You can draw the Xs and Os all you want, but you've got to go out there and perform. It's a new year, and it starts tonight."
The Sharks, by the way, were still in third in the Western Conference after that defeat to Anaheim on December 26. They go into tonight's game ninth in the West, despite an overtime loss and a shootout win (both to Vancouver) since then. Of course, they're only one point short of LA in the Pacific Division race and third in the conference. (Only in the Western Conference could a team have points in eight of its last nine games and still be in ninth.) Jonas Hiller
will be in net tonight for the Sharks, a team he has played well against lately with a 5-0-0 record, a 1.71 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last six appearances against them. The Sharks will be with Antti Niemi.
The rest of the line combos appear to look this way:
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Congrats to Ducks prospect Kyle Palmieri
, who has been named to the AHL All-Star Game for the second straight season.
The 21-year-old Palmieri remains tied for the AHL lead in goals with 19, despite playing seven games with the Ducks this year (1 goal, 1 assist). He was reassigned to Syracuse last week.
The AHL All-Star game is Jan. 30 at Atlantic City, N.J., and you can vote Palmieri into the Eastern Conference starting lineup by visiting theahl.com
and completing the official Reebok AHL All-Star Fan Ballot. You'll be entered to win a grand prize of a team-signed authentic 2012 AHL All-Star jersey. Five more winners will each receive a pair of tickets to the 2012 AHL All-Star Skills Competition and All-Star Game.
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And finally, who doesn't like a little slice of Selanne?