It’s not too often you see two division rivals close out a season series in January, but that’s the case tonight as the Ducks and Coyotes play their fifth and final game against one another this season. The Ducks have taken the first four contests, three at Honda Center and one at Jobing.com Arena.
Tonight’s game also concludes Anaheim’s two-game road trip and opens the start of the club’s ninth set of back-to-backs (they play at home tomorrow night against the Detroit Red Wings).
After yet another comeback victory two nights ago in Nashville, the league-leading Ducks hold a four-point cushion over the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, who sit second and third, respectively. At 33-8-5 (71 points), the Ducks are riding their best start to a season through 46 games, besting the previous mark of 30-9-7 for 67 points in 2006-07.
And within the Pacific Division, the Ducks have a slightly bigger lead, nine points as of today, over second-place San Jose (62 points). The Coyotes sit fifth in the division and ninth in the Western Conference with 51 points, just two points out of eighth place.
The Ducks will look to jump all over a Coyotes team that’s playing sub-.500 hockey over their past 10 games (3-3-4). But if they give up the first goal, Ducks fans need not worry, as the Ducks are a league-best 14-5-1 (.725) when their opponent scores first. No other NHL team owns a .500-or-better record when allowing the first goal. This is in addition to being 19-3-4 when scoring the first goal.
"It’s confidence," said Teemu Selanne. "Like [Thursday], we were down two goals and it didn’t really bother us. We kept coming. Everybody is doing their jobs. That’s the key for us."
If the Ducks win tonight, they'll sweep the Coyotes for the second time in the franchise's 20-year history. It last occurred during the inaugural 1993-94 season, when Anaheim won all four games against the Coyotes.
First off the ice this morning was Jonas Hiller, who will be going for his 13th consecutive victory tonight against the Coyotes. The Swiss netminder owns a club-record 12 straight victories (12-0-0) to become the first NHL goaltender to win 12 consecutive starts/games in a single season since New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, who won 12 straight from Oct. 23-Nov. 20, 1997 (Stats Inc.).
Hiller, who is tied for fourth among league leaders in wins (21), was named the NHL's Third Star of December after finishing the month leading the league in wins (9-0-1), while also posting a 1.96 GAA and .929 SV% in 10 games.
Despite recalling prospect John Gibson from the club’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk yesterday, head coach Bruce Boudreau said there’s a chance Hiller also plays tomorrow night against the Red Wings, depending on how he feels after tonight’s game.
After sitting last game, Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg will be back in the lineup against the Coyotes, according to Boudreau. Dustin Penner will also draw back into the lineup after missing Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury. Penner saw time on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry during the morning line rushes.
Selanne will sit tonight, but will play tomorrow at home against the Detroit Red Wings.
Anaheim and Phoenix conclude a five-game season series tonight with the Ducks having won all four games (4-0-0). The Ducks have held the Coyotes to two goals in each of the four games, while outscoring them 14-8 (one shootout goal excluded). The Ducks are 61-32-16 all-time vs. the Coyotes, including 26-17-9 in Arizona.