By Kyle Shohara
After taking two of three on the road and earning five out of a possible six points against divisional opponents, the Ducks return home to begin what could very well be a season-defining homestand.
Yes, it is the longest consecutive run at Honda Center this season – a homestand of eight games that span 17 days. Tonight they host the visiting Winnipeg Jets, a familiar foe from last year’s first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Ducks hosted Games 1 and 2, won both, and went on to take Games 3 and 4 at MTS Centre to advance to the Second Round. This is the first meeting since then between the two clubs, which will do battle twice more (March 20 at MTS Centre and April 5 at Honda Center).
Victories in three of the past four games and seven of eight points overall has allowed the Ducks to remain in the thick of the playoff picture. Though the season has yet to reach the halfway mark, the Ducks still find themselves only two points away from the third place Vancouver Canucks, with two games in hand on their Canadian friends.
“This is a real important stretch for us,” said Andrew Cogliano. “We set ourselves up nicely. We can make a big step here by winning a lot of games at home and using the opportunity of playing at home to our advantage. Hopefully we can score some goals and give our goalies some help because they’ve been playing great.”
“We know we did a lot of really good things,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “We allowed one goal on the road in three games. That’s pretty darn impressive. Hopefully we can continue the same kind of game here.”
For the first time in a while, the Ducks catch a team on the second half of back-to-backs. Winnipeg skated to a 4-1 victory last night against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center, with special teams and goaltending playing huge factors. The Jets opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal, and then it was former Duck Mathieu Perreault who converted on the power play late in the second period to give the Jets a two-goal lead. Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck did the rest, stopping 27 of 28 shots for his eighth win of the season (8-4-0, 2.01 GAA, .929 SV%, 1 shutout).
“We've had some really tough defeats lately, games where we feel like we deserved a better result, and at the end of the game you're asking what happened,” said Jets forward Blake Wheeler. “We finally feel like we're on the right side of it.”
Wheeler is referring to not only the club's 4-2 defeat in Arizona on Dec. 31, but also losses last week to Calgary (4-1) and Edmonton (3-1). “Look at that Edmonton game, you look up in the clouds sometimes and wonder what’s going on. It’s a testament to our group to just stick with it. We haven’t come off of it yet. It’s been a sometimes frustrating season, but we’ve stuck with it. We’re still fighting.”
It figures to be a “man’s game” tonight, one that includes plenty of hits and physicality. It was evident throughout the series last April, and the Jets are quite comfortable playing that way.
“They’re going to be the most aggressive club we’ve seen in quite a while,” said Boudreau. “They’ll be emotionally charged for the game, so we have to be ready. They’re big, they’re fast, but they really play moving forward rather than retreating. It’s going to be a little bit of an adjustment for us.”
It remains to be seen who gets the start in net for Anaheim. The Ducks opted not to hold a morning skate despite the later-than-normal start time for a Sunday home game. As a reminder, tonight’s game is at 6 p.m. PST.
John Gibson helped the Ducks record consecutive 1-0 shutouts and road shutouts for the first time in club history along with extending his shutout streak to a career-best 157:34 (spanning three games) with wins on Dec. 29 at Calgary and Dec. 31 (14 saves) at Edmonton (21 saves). Gibson is the first Anaheim goaltender to record back-to-back shutouts since Jonas Hiller on Jan. 7, 2011 vs. Columbus (27 saves) and Jan. 9, 2011 vs. San Jose (37 saves). His 1-0 victories marked his third and fourth shutouts of the season.
The 22-year-old has gone 7-4-2 with a 1.68 GAA and .931 SV% in his 14 appearances with Anaheim this season, including his first two shutouts on Nov. 30 vs. Vancouver (25 saves, third career shutout) and Dec. 4 vs. San Jose (23 saves, fourth career shutout). Recalled from San Diego (AHL) on Nov. 24, Gibson leads NHL goaltenders in GAA (min. 10 games), ranks tied for third in shutouts and sixth in SV%.
Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, was strong in his 24-save performance on Jan. 1 at Vancouver. Andersen has allowed two goals or less in 13 of his 20 appearances, and has a 5-8-5 record, 2.49 GAA and .913 SV% in 20 games.