By Kyle Shohara
It doesn’t get much better than a Ducks-Blackhawks matchup, and fans should be in for a treat tonight as the two top teams in the NHL square off inside Honda Center.
For the Ducks, it’s a chance to end their five-game homestand on a high note after going just 1-3-0 in the first four. A win would also give them a five-point cushion on the second-place Blackhawks, who play their final game before the Olympic break on Friday in Phoenix.
The two clubs have a combined record of 74-23-19 (.720 win/points percentage), the best record among competing clubs at this stage of the season in nearly five years. The last NHL game played between two NHL clubs with a combined points/win percentage over .720 after 58 games or more) was on Feb. 25, 2009, when Detroit hosted San Jose (80-21-17, .750 combined win/points percentage). (Stat courtesy of Stats INC.)
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy says it’s time for the Ducks to look themselves in the mirror and decide what kind of team they want to be from here on out.
“This is a big two games for us, a big stretch,” he said. “We need to turn this around. We can decide whether we want to be an average team the rest of the year, or a great team.
“Our guys are focused. This is the perfect time to play this team. You know you’re going to get your best effort out of everybody in this room.”
ETEM UP, STECKEL DOWN
The Ducks will have a familiar face in the lineup tonight, as earlier today the Ducks recalled Long Beach native Emerson Etem from the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League. In addition, the Ducks reassigned David Steckel to Norfolk.
“Quite frankly, the one thing about last game is that it looked like there was a lack of energy and emotion, whether in the building or on the bench,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Emerson is a guy who can bring both of those things. He’s been playing well [in Norfolk] and we thought it was a good time, with the ability of [Daniel] Winnik to play center, that we could do that.”
Etem spoke with reporters following the skate and said he’s excited to be back in Anaheim.
“It’s a great feeling when you get that call,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to help this team win. I’ll be finishing my checks and creating energy for the guys. It’s what I’m here to do, and I’m excited for the opportunity.
“I know the crowd is going to be into it. It’s going to be an intense game. It’s a growing rivalry and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
The 21-year-old said he worked on the little things during his time in Norfolk.
“The defensive game is always important,” he said. “Make sure you’re finishing your checks and always being on the [defensive] side of the puck. It was the little things that I was working on, and it seemed to work out.”
BONINO, FISTRIC ON THE ICE
Center Nick Bonino and defenseman Mark Fistric took part in the morning skate, albeit wearing blue non-contact jerseys. While no update was given on Fistric, Boudreau says Bonino appears to be getting better, but he’ll have to go “full bore” on Friday for a chance of playing on Saturday in Nashville.
EXPECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
Dustin Penner-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon-Mathieu Perreault-Teemu Selanne
Emerson Etem-Saku Koivu-Andrew Cogliano
Matt Beleskey-Daniel Winnik-Kyle Palmieri
Cam Fowler-Ben Lovejoy
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Luca Sbisa-Sami Vatanen
Anaheim and Chicago conclude a three-game season series tonight at Honda Center. The Ducks have won five of the last six over the Blackhawks, including a 3-2 shootout win on Dec. 6 at Chicago. The Blackhawks won the most recent meeting between these two teams, a 4-2 decision on Jan. 17 at the United Center. Anaheim is 43-27-9 all-time vs. Chicago, including 23-10-4 at Honda Center.