By Kyle Shohara
Tonight marks the official start to the second half of the season for Anaheim, and you better believe every game from here on out takes on a much greater meaning. After a 1-7-2 start to the season, the Ducks have scratched and clawed their way into playoff contention. They enter tonight’s game sitting three points out of third place in the Pacific Division due in large part to the inconsistencies of their divisional foes, save for their crosstown rivals from Los Angeles.
With 41 games remaining, including tonight, the Ducks don’t have the luxury of taking nights off any longer. In fact, 16 of those 41 are against teams within the Pacific, including five against the Kings. Also on the horizon is a daunting seven-game road trip that begins in Pittsburgh on Feb. 8 and ends in Vancouver on Feb. 18.
So it begins. Perhaps it’s still too soon to call this the stretch run, with 41 games remaining and all, but wins will need to be earned in bunches if the Ducks want to keep playing past Game 82.
Tonight they welcome the Ottawa Senators for the only time this season. In the midst of five straight away from Canadian Tire Centre, the Senators have had three days to think about their 7-1 loss against the Washington Capitals on Sunday. It’ll be a desperate hockey club too. Ottawa is one point behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but have played two more games.
“I expect to see a tremendous effort from them,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’re going to have to be at the top of our game. They’re a good team and nobody likes losing 7-1. They’ve had a few days to think about it. They’re going to be ready, so the first period is going to be very important.”
Pacing the Sens in scoring is their captain, two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. He leads his team in scoring again this season (he’s done so the past two seasons) and is nearing 400 points in his NHL career (93-255—348). Mike Hoffman leads the team in goals (20) and ranks tied for second in points (36) with former Duck Bobby Ryan.
ANDERSEN GETS THE NOD
Frederik Andersen will be the man between the pipes for Anaheim, as indicated by the morning skate and later confirmed by Boudreau. It’s been a long time coming for the 6-foot-4, 220-pound netminder, who appeared in two of the past five games, but has started just once in the past nine overall.
He says his time on the bench has been a “learning experience,” one that has allowed him to continually work on his game in practice to stay ready if and when he gets the call to start. So the physical aspect isn’t an issue. He gets his reps in practice and stays strong in the gym. As for the mental approach, Andersen says he’s staying calm and collected.
“It’s good and positive that we’ve been turning things around and getting closer to that playoff spot,” said Andersen, who won three consecutive games from Nov. 1-6 and had five straight games without a regulation loss (3-0-2) from Nov. 1-11. “I want to be ready to contribute and help get wins when I get back in. We need to start winning consecutively. We’ve been playing better. We just have to keep playing the right way.”