By Kyle Shohara
The Ducks will have another opportunity to punch their ticket to the postseason tonight, but they’ll have to do so without two key players in the lineup.
Earlier today, it was announced that center Ryan Kesler and defenseman Simon Despres will not play, and both are returning to Anaheim. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said Kesler returned to handle a personal matter, while Despres was sent home for further evaluation.
Despres, of course, missed 42 games with a concussion earlier this season, and played 18:19 TOI in Anaheim’s 4-3 loss against the Canadiens two nights ago. Kesler had played in every game of the season thus far and came into tonight’s contest riding a three-game point streak (2-2—4) and points in four of the past five (3-4—7). Boudreau said he’s unsure if the team’s shutdown center will rejoin the team for the remainder of the trip, which continues on Saturday at Ottawa and concludes on Monday in Edmonton.
“[Despres] got hit last game and wasn’t feeling right,” Boudreau said, referring to the game on Tuesday at Montreal. “With his history, we wanted to make sure he’s completely better before he plays.”
Shea Theodore, recalled yesterday from the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League, is expected to be the healthy scratch on the blueline.
Also on the ice for the Ducks were injured players Chris Stewart and Sami Vatanen. Stewart hasn’t played since Feb. 11 at Columbus, but today wore a full clear shield to protect his jaw, which was surgically repaired following his fight with Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout. Boudreau says Stewart has been cleared for contact. Vatanen is still recovering from an upper-body injury that occurred on March 9 at Colorado.
Frederik Andersen will get the start for Anaheim, while Garret Sparks goes for Toronto. Andersen stopped all 38 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season (fifth of his career), March 18 vs. Boston. Andersen enters the game with a 20-9-6 record, 2.17 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
Sparks, meanwhile, will appear in his 12th career NHL game tonight. Through 11 games, the 22-year-old is 5-4-1 with a 2.51 GAA and .904 SV%. Sparks made his NHL debut on Nov. 30 vs. Edmonton, stopping 24 shots to become the first player in Maple Leafs history to record a shutout in his first NHL game. Sparks has also appeared in 20 AHL games with the Toronto Marlies this season, posting a record of 13-4-3 with a 2.34 GAA and .925 SV%.
Like the Canadiens, the Maple Leafs won’t make the postseason, and because of this, an influx of youth is in effect. Young players looking to make an impression pose a challenge for the Ducks, says defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who stresses the need to treat these types of games as ones of high importance.
“It is a challenge,” said Bieksa. “We have to look at it as a challenge and be aware of it. There are some games here against some teams that are out [of the playoff picture] playing a lot of young guys to get them experience. We have to realize that, be professional and play the right way.”
HORCOFF TO REACH 1,000
A career spanning 15 years reaches a milestone tonight, as Shawn Horcoff is set to appear in his 1,000th career NHL game. Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the fourth round (99th overall) of the 1998 NHL Draft, Horcoff made his NHL debut during the 2000-01 season and has gone on to record 186-321—507 points and 620 penalty minutes over 999 games. Horcoff has played 796 games with the Oilers, 153 with the Dallas Stars (2013-15) and 50 with Anaheim (2015-16).
Horcoff is expected to slot into the checking line with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg.
“It’ll mean a lot more when my career is over,” Horcoff said. “You think a little bit about it as it comes closer, but it’s a huge honor. It’s such a privilege to play in the National Hockey League. And to be able to play for so long, it’s not really something you think about as a kid. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a privilege.”
Cogliano has been Horcoff’s longtime teammate in Edmonton and Anaheim, and credits the veteran for helping him become the player he is today.
“Coming up as a young [player], he’s a guy who a lot of guys can learn from – and should learn from,” said Cogliano, who will appear in his 695th consecutive game tonight. “He’s been instrumental in helping me get to the level I’m at now. He’s made me a good pro. He’s a player you want on your team. He’s a player we’re going to need come playoff time because of how he competes. I’m close with him off the ice and I’ve been friends with him for a while. He’s been a leader. It shows how hard he’s worked in terms of how many games he’s played. It’s an incredible feat.”