By Kyle Shohara
The Ducks hope to make a good road trip turn out great as they close out their four-game Central Division trek tonight at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.
Currently 2-1-0 on a trip that features four teams that all qualified for the playoffs last season, the Ducks started it off by shutting out the Blackhawks 1-0, got shutout themselves 2-0 at St. Louis, and then defeated the Stars 2-1 in overtime two nights ago to finish off a back-to-back set. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Ducks are 13-1-2 in the second half of back-to-back games, the best mark in the NHL (including 2-0-0 this season).
“We’ve been good for two games and we’ve been bad for one game,” said Ryan Kesler. “We want to finish it off right. We want to win this road trip. That’s important for us. That’s what successful teams do. They win road trips.”
With a 9-3-0 record, the Ducks enter the game leading the league in wins and standings points, having won nine of their last 11 games (9-2-0) and five of the last six on the road (5-1-0). Through 12 games, Anaheim has tied for the most victories and allowed the fewest goals (22) in club history. The team is also tied for the most road wins through seven games at 5-2-0 (also 2012-13, 2008-09, 2006-07).
Tonight marks the first of three against the Colorado Avalanche (3-4-5, 11 points), and the lone contest at Pepsi Center. The Ducks are riding a two-game winning streak vs. the Avs dating to last season (2-0-0). The two victories include a 6-4 decision on March 14, 2014 at Pepsi Center and a 3-2 overtime win on April 13, 2014 at Honda Center. And of course, who can forget the 2013-14 season opener in which Avs head coach Patrick Roy nearly toppled the partition that separates the two benches onto Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Like the Stars, the Avs are built around speed. Reigning Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon is the fastest of them all, and the Ducks know they’ll have to be aware at all times in what figures to be an up-tempo game.
“The challenges they present are always the same,” said Boudreau. “Their top-six forwards are so fast. They played so fast last year, it was scary at times. When Duchene and MacKinnon get going, along with Tyson Barrie, they can come at you at all angles. We’ve gone through the Central Division, and almost all the teams play the same way. You know they’re going to come at you five guys at a time.”
On paper, the schedule works in Anaheim’s favor for tonight’s game. The Ducks arrived in Denver around midnight on Saturday, while the Avs were in St. Louis for a game last night at Scottrade Center (they lost 3-2 in a shootout). So while the Avs had to fly back to Denver late last night, the Ducks were resting, no doubt keeping a close eye on the game in St. Louis.
“These things happen to everybody,” said Roy. “Tonight, it’s us. Last time, Vancouver was playing the night before. That’s the way the schedule is made. Let’s not find excuses. They’re playing their third in four nights, too.”
Roy says he’s going with Semyon Varlamov for the second consecutive night. The 26-year-old netminder made 27 saves in Colorado’s shootout loss last night.
BACK TO REALITY?
The Avs took the league by storm last season under first-year head coach Roy, who took home the 2014 Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year. Colorado finished with a 52-22-8 record (112 points), finishing third in the overall league standings after placing 29th in 2012-13. Colorado became the first club since the NHL expanded to 21 teams in 1979 to go from the bottom three to top three in a single season. The Avalanche matched a franchise record for wins, recorded the NHL's best road mark (26-11-4), ranked fourth in the NHL in goals (250) and didn’t suffer a regulation loss when leading after two periods (35-0-3).
Through their first 12 games last season, the Avs went 11-1-0 (22 points). This season, the club sports a pedestrian 3-4-5 (11 points) mark. They’ve earned points in five straight, though only two have been wins.
“They haven’t gotten off to the start they wanted, but they’re a dangerous team,” said Andrew Cogliano. “They have guys on the team who are very strong offensive players. If you don’t play good defensively against them, it’s going to be a tough night. We saw that last year. It’s a big game for us.”
The Ducks finished the month of October with a league-leading 9-3-0 record in 12 games, pacing the NHL in wins, standings points (18) and regulation/overtime wins (8). Corey Perry led the league in goals (10) and co-led in power-play goals (4), while Frederik Andersen led league netminders in goals-against average (1.60) and co-led in wins (7). In franchise history, the Ducks tied for the second-most wins in October (also 2006-07) and matched the second-best win (points) percentage (.750) during the season’s first month (also 2013-14).