By Kyle Shohara
The Ducks conclude the second half of back to backs tonight against the Florida Panthers on this blustery Sunday in Southern California. Anaheim traveled up the 5 freeway for an afternoon game yesterday at Staples Center against the rival Kings, only to once again come up a point short. If not for superb goaltending by LA’s Jonathan Quick and a few questionable calls, including one in overtime, it could’ve been a different outcome for the Ducks, who still sit atop the Western Conference.
Anaheim set a franchise record yesterday by reaching overtime for the fifth consecutive game. Though the Ducks own the league's longest active point streak at seven games (3-0-4, 10 pts.) and have earned points 15 of their last 17 games (11-2-4, 26 pts.), the club hasn’t won in regulation since Nov. 2 at Colorado.
“You want to get points, but we don’t go into games hoping we get one,” said Ryan Kesler, who enters tonight’s game riding a four-game point streak (3g/4a). “We want two. There’s no panic in this room. We’re playing well. We’re just not getting the two points right now. Things are going to turn around for us.”
Injuries are inevitable, and the Ducks have been without the services of their leading scorer, Corey Perry, for the past five games, while Francois Beauchemin has been out for three. Although Perry has recovered from the mumps and has been practicing, Beauchemin has remained away from the team. Other players have stepped up in their absence, but there’s no replacing the likes of Perry and Beauchemin.
“We’re battling through a lot of injuries,” said Ryan Getzlaf. “We have some big guys out of the lineup. When we manage to get points every night, it’s a positive. Do we want two points? Yes, but we’re getting points and moving forward.”
The Ducks hope to get Perry back within the week, but his status for tonight remains uncertain. It is more likely he returns in one of Anaheim’s two upcoming road games (Tuesday at Calgary and Thursday at Vancouver).
For the Cats, tonight marks the beginning of a four-game road trip that continues at LA (Nov. 18) and San Jose (Nov. 20), and then concludes in Nashville (Nov. 22). The Panthers enter the game near the bottom of the Eastern Conference (5-4-5, 15 points), but have suffered just one regulation loss on the road this season, earning points in six of their seven road match-ups (2-1-4).
Florida is led by rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the first overall pick from the 2014 NHL Draft. At all of 18 years of age, Ekblad has recorded at least one point in three consecutive games (1g/4a), after scoring his second career goal on Nov. 14 against the NY Islanders. Ekblad has seven points (2g/5a) in his last six games played and is currently tied for the team lead with nine points (2g/7a). The 6-foot-4, 216-pound defenseman ranks first in scoring among rookie defensemen and places second among rookies in TOI (21:68).
Ekblad set a franchise record as the youngest defenseman (18 years, 267 days) in Panthers history to record a goal (Nov. 1 vs. Philadelphia), joining former Ducks Rob Niedermayer and Radek Dvorak, Nathan Horton, and Aleksander Barkov as the only 18-year olds to score a goal for Florida.
The Ducks will also see a member of their 2007 Stanley Cup squad tonight. Rugged forward Shawn Thornton was signed by the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent on the first day of free agency in July. Thornton appeared in 48 games in his lone season with Anaheim, earning nine points and 88 penalty minutes. He also skated in 15 postseason contests, including the Cup-clinching victory vs. Ottawa in Game 5 at Honda Center on June 6, 2007. Thornton spent the past seven seasons with the Boston Bruins, and won his second Stanley Cup in 2011.