By Kyle Shohara
AnaheimDucks.com Practice Photos
Practice was at full capacity this afternoon during the Ducks’ 45-minute on-ice session at Honda Center. With the imminent return of defenseman Sami Vatanen, tough decisions will have to be made regarding the lineup that will dress for tomorrow night’s Freeway Faceoff finale vs. the Los Angeles Kings.
It’s been a month since Vatanen suffered a lower-body injury during a game vs. Washington, an injury that was originally expected to keep him out four to six weeks. After practice today, Vatanen said he’s been working hard in the weight room to get his strength back.
“I have to say, I feel pretty good,” he said. “I can’t wait to get on the ice and play hockey again. I’ve been lifting weights for the past three weeks, so I should be big and strong when I get on the ice. I think I’m ready to play tomorrow, so we’ll see what the lineup is. It’s a big game, and what better game to come back to than that?”
With eight defensemen on the active roster, including Korbinian Holzer, who has yet to make his Anaheim debut, the decision on who sits is even more difficult with Vatanen raring to go.
“I talk to the coaches, and I talk to Bob [Murray], so it’s a unified decision,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I end up making the decision after what I hear. These are tough decisions, but it’s better than saying we just need to throw this guy into the lineup. These are always good decisions.”
Despite missing the past 14 games, Vatanen ranks tied for 12th among league defensemen in power-play points (17) and tied for second in power-play goals (7). He has 12 goals and 34 points in 57 games this season, and has already set career highs in goals, assists (22), points, power-play goals and shorthanded goals (1).
But with a defense that has played well the past couple of games, Boudreau says Vatanen’s return may have to wait.
“It may be tomorrow, it may not be,” he said. “The defense has played pretty good the last couple games. It’s a tough decision on who to take out to allow Sami in, even though he was arguably our best defenseman for the first three quarters of the year.
“It’s not an easy decision, there’s no doubt,” said Boudreau. “In the last 13 games, we’re 9-4. In the nine games we’ve won, our goals against is like 1.50, so we’ve had some pretty good games. We blew up in Calgary and against Pittsburgh, but those are the only two with more than three goals against. The defense must be doing something right."