By Kyle Shohara
At long last, the Ducks have reached their final stop on a season-long seven-game road trip that began Feb. 8. Tonight they have a chance to finish the road trip with a 5-1-1 record and climb to within one point of the first-place LA Kings, who take on the St. Louis Blues later today.
Anaheim (29-19-8, 66 pts.) owns the NHL’s top record since Christmas, going 17-4-2 for a .783 points percentage, and now climbed from 29th in the NHL standings to second place in the Pacific Division. On Dec. 18, the Ducks were 15 points behind the division-leading Kings and had 27 points in their first 30 games.
The club has gone 10-1-1 in the last 12 games and enters tonight's contest on a five-game winning streak vs. the Pacific along with a 9-1-1 mark in its last 11 intra-division games.
In addition, Anaheim has points in the last five road games (4-0-1, 9 pts.) and 12 of the last 13 (9-1-3, 21 pts.), buoyed by captain Ryan Getzlaf's active nine-game road scoring streak (3-12=15).
Standing in their way tonight are the Vancouver Canucks, a struggling squad that has lost two consecutive games by 5-2 scores. The Canucks can’t afford to lose many more, especially against divisional teams. As of right now, Vancouver (22-22-12, 56 pts.) sits in fifth place in the Pacific, nine points out of third place (San Jose) and six points from the second – and final – wild card spot currently held by Nashville.
"I thought we've had a pretty good road trip and this game is a pretty good way to finish it up," said Ducks center Rickard Rakell. "Because they're in our division, we have to put them as many points behind us as possible. Don't give them any chance or hope that they can catch us."
Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins says he wants to see his club come out with fervor.
“This year, there have been times when we lost a lot of close games -- a lot of games have gotten away from us, and they're coming back to hurt us now,” Desjardins said. “For preparation, you prepare consistently. You know what you want to do. There's a point where you have to get some excitement. That's what winning gives you.”
“Everyone said they were going to be at the top of our division,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said of Anaheim. “They struggled early on, but they turned the corner. There is still time for us, too, but it's about our effort.”
The big news from yesterday was the roster move that sent goaltender Anton Khudobin back to San Diego. This means John Gibson, who suffered an upper-body injury in Saturday’s game at Chicago, is ready to play. Reports from the morning skate at Rogers Arena indicate he’ll get back in the cage tonight. The 22-year-old ranks fourth among league leaders in goals-against average (2.11) and ranks tied for fourth in shutouts (4), and brings a 12-8-2 record into tonight’s game.
Gibson, of course, has history against the Canucks. It on was April 7, 2014 when the Pittsburgh native made his NHL debut. He blanked the Canucks at Rogers Arena in a 3-0 victory to become the first goalie since Al Montoya (April 1, 2009) to record a shutout in his first NHL game. Gibson also became the youngest netminder to record a shutout in his first game since Nov. 1, 1985, when Daren Puppa did it for the Buffalo Sabres.