By Kyle Shohara
Morning skate photos
After a successful road trip that saw the Ducks take three of four, the team is back in Anaheim to begin a four-game homestand that begins tonight against the New York Islanders. But the big question on who starts in net wasn’t exactly revealed during the post-skate media scrum this morning. Frederik Andersen, who missed Sunday’s game with muscle tightness, was vague in his responses, as was head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“I’m feeling way better than yesterday,” said Andersen. “I’m just going to keep improving every day. I’m going to talk with Bruce about what’s going on tonight.”
“Freddie is available and Jason [LaBarbera] is available tonight, so one of those two guys will start and other will back up,” said Boudreau.
With goaltender John Gibson out approximately six weeks with a groin injury, the Ducks recalled LaBarbera early Sunday morning. The veteran netminder went on to record 16 saves in Anaheim’s win at Colorado later that night on two hours of sleep. So whether it’s Andersen or LaBarbera tonight (the Ducks also recalled Igor Bobkov from Norfolk (AHL) yesterday), Boudreau says he’s comfortable with the current depth in net.
“We’re fine. LaBarbera is an established NHL guy,” said Boudreau. “He’s been outstanding in a backup role [in his career]. We have no problem with him coming in.”
DEFENSE STEPPING UP
There isn’t an NHL team with more standings points than the Ducks, who enter their first home game of November with a league-leading 10-3-0 record. Anaheim paces the NHL in wins, points (20) and regulation/overtime wins (9).
A major factor behind Anaheim’s early success is its defense, and the stats don’t lie. The Ducks rank second in the NHL in goals-against average (1.85) after finishing ninth last season (2.48), while their much-improved penalty kill ranks eighth (86.4%) after finishing 13th last season (82.2%). In addition, the Ducks have allowed two goals or less in 10-of-13 games this season (had done so seven times through 13 games last season) and allowed 20 shots or less three times (once in first 13 games last season).
“Our defense, which was really a young core, is getting more experienced,” said Boudreau. “We get in lanes and do the right things. [Assistant coach] Trent Yawney has done a really good job with the back end as well. All of these things mean you’re going to be better defensively, and quite frankly, our goaltending has been spectacular.”
Their opponent tonight has had three full days of preparation after dropping a 3-1 game at San Jose on Saturday. The loss was their fourth in a row and fifth in the past seven games. It’s been a tale of two teams thus far, as the Islanders stormed out of the gate with four straight wins to begin the season, but now find themselves third in the Metropolitan Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 6-5-0 record (12) points.
“They haven’t had much luck, but I see a scary team right now,” said Boudreau. “They’ve always scared me, even when I was with Washington. They have guys who can fly and they’ve added four major pieces to the puzzle in the offseason.
“They’re a fun team to watch if you’re a spectator, but a scary team to play against.”
Though the Isles aren’t hurting for goals (36 – tied with Anaheim), they’ve only scored once in the past two games, which includes a 5-0 shutout loss at Colorado – a game in which they reeled off 40 shots on net.
Captain John Tavares and linemate Kyle Okposo lead the Islanders offense with 12 points apiece (both have four goals and eight assists), while newcomers Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have solidified the blueline. And unlike seasons past, the Isles are now four lines deep.
“They’re a team with a lot of firepower,” said defenseman Cam Fowler. “We know they’re going to be hungry. They have some guys over there with world class talent. As a d-core, that puts a lot of pressure on us. We can’t get into a run-and-gun game with them.”
The Ducks have won three straight games over the Islanders and four consecutive at home dating to March 19, 2010 (5-4 overtime victory), both team records. Anaheim is 11-10-5 all-time vs. the Isles, including a 6-4-4 mark at Honda Center.
“They’re fast and can come at you with four lines,” said Boudreau. “It’s going to be a difficult test, especially with them losing the first two games of the road trip. They’ve had three days of practice. They’re going to be ready for us, that’s for sure.”