By Kyle Shohara
Tonight officially marks the halfway point of the season for the league-leading Ducks (25-9-6, 56 points), who face one of the most improved teams later this evening at Honda Center.
The Nashville Predators enter tonight’s action three points behind Anaheim, with a 25-9-3 record (53 points) through 38 games. To put things in perspective, the Preds were 16-18-4 (36 points) through 38 games last season, good for last place in the Central Division and 12th in the 14-team Western Conference. It’s a stark turnaround for a club that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011-12.
The Preds are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and have won two in a row, the most recent occurring yesterday afternoon, a wild 7-6 overtime victory at Staples Center against the LA Kings. Nashville jumped out to 5-1 and 6-3 leads, only to see the latter evaporate in the final 2:01 of regulation. Roman Josi’s goal 18 seconds into overtime ensured the extra point.
One of the reasons why Nashville is experiencing a renaissance is due to its balanced attack. In yesterday’s victory, 16 players registered at least one point, a first in franchise history. That included multi-point performances by defensemen Josi (1g/1a) and Ryan Ellis (1g/1a), and centers Colin Wilson (1g/la) and Mike Ribeiro (2a).
“I see the work ethic that they've had in the past, and now they've added a different dimension to the game, and that’s being aggressive offensively,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “They're a very tough team to play against.”
Tonight opens a three-game season series with Nashville, the first of two to be played at Honda Center. The Ducks and Predators currently co-lead the Western Conference in regulation/overtime wins (21) and rank first and tied for third in the overall NHL standings, respectively. The Ducks have gone 5-1-0 vs. the Predators since the start of the 2012-13 season and own a 32-19-7 record overall since 1998-99. At Honda Center, Anaheim has posted a 20-6-3 record vs. Nashville. These two teams will next meet on Feb. 5 at Bridgestone Arena before concluding the season series back at Honda Center on March 15.
Ryan Getzlaf, who was named the NHL’s First Star for the month of December, paces Anaheim skaters in career scoring against the Predators, collecting 35 points (10g/25a) in 30 games.
If Frederik Andersen gets the start in net, it would mark his third career game vs. Nashville (1-0-0). Overall, the 25-year-old netminder is 21-6-5 this season and ranks tied for third in the NHL in wins with a career-best 21 victories.
As for Nashville, it’s hard to go with anyone other than Pekka Rinne tonight despite him playing yesterday. The 32-year-old goaltender has been in net for all of Nashville’s 25 victories this season and ranks first among all NHL goaltender in wins, three more than the next closest netminder (Montreal’s Carey Price). Rinne’s 2.00 goals-against average is third in the NHL, his .929 save percentage is fourth and his three shutouts (Oct. 17 vs. Winnipeg, Nov. 27 vs. Edmonton and Dec. 9 vs. Colorado) are tied for third in the category.
In 17 career games vs. Anaheim, Rinne has posted a 10-3-4 record with a 2.17 GAA and .922 SV%.
BOURQUE STEPS UP
Expect Rene Bourque to begin tonight’s game on left wing alongside Getzlaf and right wing Corey Perry. Bourque, who skated with the familiar duo yesterday in practice, draws back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the previous two.
“We have a lot of depth and a lot of numbers up front,” Bourque said. “I think there are a lot of guys who are fighting to stay in the lineup, and that creates good competition. I want to be better. Hopefully with these guys I can show that.”
Bourque, who has two goals and seven points in 30 games this season with Montreal and Anaheim, scored his first goal as a Duck on Dec. 7 at Winnipeg and collected his first multi-point game of the season (two assists), Dec. 12 at Edmonton.
“I've got to make sure I'm on my game, and that's moving my feet and playing physical,” Bourque said. “I'm going to be trying to get loose pucks for them and going to the net. They're trying to find somebody to stick on that line. I want to try and take advantage of it.”