Ducks fans need not wait any longer. After 11 days on the road to begin the season, the Ducks are back in town to host their 2016-17 home opener at Honda Center against the Vancouver Canucks. The opponent shouldn't come as a surprise, at least for openers here in Anaheim. The Ducks have hosted the Canucks in their home opener five times, more than any other opponent in franchise history. No other team has helped open Honda Center more than twice since 1993-94.
Surprisingly enough, the Ducks aren't the last team to have a home opener this late into the month. The Carolina Hurricanes are currently on the final stretch of their season-opening six-game road trip, and won't play on home ice until next Friday.
"Everybody has to play the schedule they're provided," said head coach Randy Carlyle. "We didn't get the necessary results on the road, but in the last game we finally played closer to the template required for 60 minutes. Hopefully we're able to build on that."
The Ducks skate into Honda Center with good vibes following the game Carlyle described - a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. The triumph not only gave the Ducks their first win of the season, but also saw the team play with cohesion and chemistry - despite a parade to the penalty box during a turbulent second period. Depth players came through for the first time all season, including Chris Wagner and Ryan Garbutt, who earned their first goals of the 2016-17 campaign.
"We feel good about ourselves, and that'll carry over into [tonight]," said defenseman Kevin Bieksa. "It's a better feeling after getting that first win. Teams in our division are winning. You don't want to start behind the eight ball too much."
Imagine being 4-0-1 and only having a lead in one of those games. That's the life of the Canucks, who erased a three-goal deficit last night with three unanswered tallies of their own in an eventual 4-3 shootout loss to the LA Kings at Staples Center. Vancouver has collected 9 out of a possible 10 points thus far in 2016-17, and became the first team in NHL history to win its first three games of a season while never leading in regulation in any of those games (Oct. 15-18). The Canucks never trailed in their 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres this past Thursday.
"They're going to ride that wave as much as possible," said Carlyle. "They're youthful and exuberant. They've got some stiffness on the backend with [Luca] Sbisa and [Erik] Gudbranson. There are always surprises early in the season. Any team that's coming into your building, you better be ready. There are no easy ones in the NHL, that's for sure."
The Canucks are expected to go with Ryan Miller in net tonight, whose lone appearance this season was a 2-1 shootout victory over the Calgary Flames in the season opener. Miller didn't give up a goal through 65 minutes, but he didn't record a shutout either. How did that happen, you ask? On a delayed penalty, the Canucks pulled Miller for the extra attacker like all teams do when they have possession. Unfortunately for newcomer Loui Eriksson, his pass back into his own zone missed his intended target and went into the vacated net. What a way to introduce yourself to the home crowd. Eriksson, who signed a six-year contract with the Canucks on July 1, has two points (both assists) in five games thus far.
The Ducks will likely go with John Gibson, who is coming off a 20-save victory over Philadelphia. In four career games against the Canucks, Gibson is 3-1-0 with a 1.26 goals-against average and .946 save percentage with two shutouts.
READY FOR THE HOME OPENER
Festivities for tonight's home opener begin at 1:30 p.m. with a white carpet player introduction on the arena's south side. Players will greet fans as they walk the white carpet and will be interviewed on stage by Ducks host Kent French.
"That was pretty special last year," said Bieksa, now in his second home opener with the Ducks. "I was surprised with how many people were there that early. It almost had a tailgate feel to it. People were excited. It's the start of a new season, and a season of high expectations. Hopefully we can build off that energy when the game starts."