By Kyle Shohara
Morning Skate Photos
Much like Jiri Sekac was the center of attention two nights ago when his former Montreal Canadiens team was in town, reporters this morning swarmed around Simon Despres, who will face the Pittsburgh Penguins just four days after being traded to Anaheim.
The soft-spoken 23-year-old has fit in nicely in his first two games as a Duck, earning an assist and a plus-3 rating in his debut Tuesday at Arizona and a plus-1 rating on Wednesday vs. Montreal. At the time of the trade, Despres admitted it came as a shock.
“It’s still very soon right now,” Despres said, when asked if joining a new team is equivalent to having a clean slate. “I’m just focusing on one game at a time, and one day at a time. It was definitely a surprise, and very emotional. I wasn’t expecting it.”
When asked what he expects facing his former team so soon after being dealt, Despres was almost at a loss for words. “I’ve never done that before…It’s going to be different.”
ANDERSEN STARTS, EXPECTED LINEUPS, AND MORE
First off the ice this morning was Frederik Andersen, who stopped 29 of 30 shots in Anaheim’s 4-1 victory at Arizona on Tuesday. That appearance was his first since Feb. 8 at Tampa Bay, when he left the game with an upper-body injury. Andersen’s victory against the Coyotes was his 50th in his first 68 career decisions (50-13-5), matching Bill Durnan's NHL-record 50 wins in his first 68 decisions (set in Dec. 1944). Andersen also became the fourth Anaheim goaltender to record a 30-win season. Among NHL goaltenders, he ranks sixth in wins (30) and co-leads in shootout wins (6), while winning 20 of his last 25 decisions (20-4-1).
With two formidable goaltenders at the ready, Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau says the plan – as of the right now – is to alternate Andersen and John Gibson.
“We’ll just alternate for a little while to get Freddie back into it,” he said. “Gibby’s been strong. And, we’re playing every second day in the month of March. As it stands, Roli [Ducks goaltending consultant Dwayne Roloson] and I will talk, but they’ll get their equal share until April, and then we’ll see what happens then.”
Line combinations this morning were unchanged from the previous game, so the dynamic “kid line” comprising 22-year-olds Sekac and Emerson Etem, and 21-year-old Rickard Rakell will remain intact. The trio has been together since the Feb. 27 game vs. Los Angeles, a game in which all three factored into the tying goal in the third period.
“Sometimes you get a young line together and one good thing about it is they don’t feel the pressure of having to do something for an experienced veteran,” said Boudreau. “They don’t feel they have to get him the puck, and they play to their strengths. They’ve been good at that so far. Right now they have a little bit of chemistry going. They’ve got speed and enthusiasm.”
Matt Beleskey and Sami Vatanen took part in the morning skate, and Boudreau says both will travel with the team on its upcoming road trip. Both were injured on Feb. 15 vs. Washington, and at the time, Beleskey (upper body) was expected to be out two to four weeks and Vatanen (lower body) four to six.
“I don’t know if [Vatanen’s] going to play, but he’s going on the trip,” said Boudreau. “We’re going to keep the group together. He’s going to practice with us. If he’s available by the end of the trip, great. If he’s not, then I’m sure when we get home, if there are no setbacks, he [and Beleskey] should be OK.”
Kyle Palmieri-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Tomas Fleischmann-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg
Emerson Etem-Rickard Rakell-Jiri Sekac
Patrick Maroon-Nate Thompson-Andrew Cogliano
Cam Fowler-Simon Despres
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Clayton Stoner-Josh Manson
WELCOME BACK, BEN
The trade that brought Despres to Anaheim also meant a return to a familiar place for defenseman Ben Lovejoy. The well-spoken Ivy League grad was in the Penguins organization from 2007-13, before the Ducks acquired him for a fifth-round pick on Feb. 6, 2013. Lovejoy immediately became a fan favorite here, and was often sought out by reporters for his honest answers.
Today he welcomed those same reporters to his locker stall, but this time as a member of the Penguins.
“I don't know how superstars who spend 10 years in a place ever come back without being an emotional wreck, because I was here for 25 months and that’s how I felt this morning,” he said. “I've bonded with so many people here, both inside and outside the rink. I'll miss that, and look back very fondly.
“People in Pittsburgh knew me personally, and knew my work ethic and personality. They’ve watched the things I’ve done with the Ducks, and appreciated them. I’ve become a completely different player than the last time I was a Penguin. They saw a need, and felt that my personality and my game, and the fact that I’d been there for so long, would be an easy fit to come back.”