By Kyle Shohara
After enjoying the Christmas break with friends and family, the Ducks return to work tonight as they face the Pacific Division rival Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. The Ducks currently sit atop the NHL standings with a league-best 51 points (23-8-5), while the Coyotes rank 13th in the 14-team Western Conference (12-18-4, 28 points).
In an unusual twist, the Ducks traveled to the Phoenix area earlier this morning instead of the day before. Following the game, the Ducks will fly immediately back home to open a season-long eight-game homestand that kicks off tomorrow against the Vancouver Canucks.
Tonight's game marks the only time the Ducks will travel away from Southern California over a span of 37 consecutive days (beginning Dec. 20 through Jan. 25), and also begins the club's seventh set of back-to-back games this season. The Ducks are 6-5-1 in back-to-back games in 2014-15, including 3-2-1 in the opening game. Dating to the start of the 2013-14 season, Anaheim is 26-10-4 in back-to-back situations and 14-4-2 in the second game, an NHL best by win percentage (.750).
The Ducks are coming off a satisfying 3-2 overtime victory against their intrastate rivals from San Jose four nights ago at Honda Center, one that sent the team into the break as the first team in the NHL to reach the 50-point mark. Rickard Rakell collected his first career regular-season goal in the second period, Cam Fowler notched his fourth goal of the season (which tied the game with 4:16 remaining in regulation) in his 300th career NHL game, and Ryan Kesler scored his fourth career overtime goal and first as a Duck, 58 seconds into the extra frame.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of that night was Fowler’s unorthodox and highly amusing goal celebration. His self-proclaimed “barrel roll” went viral via social media minutes later. “It's probably not one of my better moments, going into a barrel roll,” he sheepishly said after the game. “The excitement of the goal took over.”
Like the Ducks, the Coyotes entered the break on a winning note. They scored early, taking a 2-0 lead five minutes into what became a 5-1 victory over the last-place Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on Tuesday. The victory was much-needed for the Coyotes, who have only won twice in their past nine games (2-6-1). “It felt good, it was obviously a big win for us,” Coyotes forward Sam Gagner said after the game. “Things haven’t been going great.” The Coyotes got blown out 7-1 the night before in Vancouver.
Ryan Getzlaf (12-27=39), who ranks fifth among NHL leaders in scoring, tied for third in assists, and tied for fourth in even-strength scoring (11-17=28) and assists, has points in six straight (4-6=10, second-longest active streak in the league) and in 11 of his last 12 games (6-14=20).
Ryan Kesler has 6-3=9 points in his last nine games and 11-10=21 points in his last 23.
Sami Vatanen has set career highs in goals (9), points (24) and power-play goals (5), and matched a career-best in assists (15) in 36 games. Vatanen, who has 6-11=17 points in his last 23 games, co-leads NHL defensemen in PPG (5), ranks tied for fifth in scoring (9-15=24) and tied for fourth in goals.
Matt Beleskey has a career-high 15 goals in 36 games and has 8-3=11 points in his last 16. Beleskey is currently tied for 11th among league leaders in goals and tied for second in game-winning goals (4).
MILESTONES WITHIN REACH
Matt Beleskey - 1 point to 100 NHL points
Emerson Etem - 9 appearances to 100 NHL games
Ryan Getzlaf - 5 goals to 200 NHL goals
Dany Heatley - 9 points to 800 NHL points
Ryan Kesler - 9 appearances to 700 NHL games; 6 goals to 200 NHL goals
Nate Thompson - 8 points to 100 NHL points
Sami Vatanen - 8 appearances to 100 NHL games