A season that began on a frustrating note following a 1-7-2 month of October can now come full circle, as tonight the Ducks (40-22-9, 89 pts) can punch their ticket to the postseason with a point earned against the Montreal Canadiens (33-34-6, 72 pts).
It can happen in one of two ways: A point earned via win, overtime or shootout tonight by Anaheim, or if Arizona loses tonight in any fashion vs. Edmonton. The Ducks are still within reach of the Pacific Division lead currently held by the LA Kings (93 points), and the top spot in the Western Conference currently staked by the Dallas Stars (95 points).
It’s no secret that the Ducks clamped down on the defensive aspects of their game when they couldn’t find their scoring touch. Looking back the club’s early-season struggles and adversity, defenseman Kevin Bieksa says it was an opportunity for the team to figure out its identity.
“We had a rough October, but once we got that first win, we started playing more of our style,” Bieksa said. “Pucks weren’t going in and we didn’t score a whole lot of goals to begin the season. Our power play was the worst in the league. We had to really tighten up defensively, and that’s what we did until we could get our sticks going.”
Bieksa says he and his teammates never turned on each other during the darkest of days, which further sparked the turnaround.
“Expectations were high at the start of the season,” Bieksa said. “We wanted to be at the top of the division the whole year, and we weren’t. We had to claw our way back. When you start losing a bunch of games, it starts to snowball. It feels like you’re never going to get it back together, but we stayed positive. We didn’t turn on each other.”
Bieksa adds, “We stuck together and kept grinding it out. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a while. It took a lot of practices, battling, and a lot of close games that we just edged out. To get to the point where we are now, we’re happy and stronger for it.”
But clinching a postseason berth won’t come easy. It never does in this league. The Ducks had to fight and claw their way to a 3-2 overtime victory two days ago against the Winnipeg Jets, who entered the game ranked 29th in the NHL in standings points. Tonight will be no different, especially against a Canadiens team that prides itself on consistency. Montreal finished October with a 9-0 record for the first time in its storied history. The Habs improved to 19-4-1 before a brutal stretch that saw them lose 24 of 32 games. Of course, losing their No. 1 goaltender Carey Price to a long-term lower-body injury didn't help, but now without the services of defenseman P.K. Subban, the Canadiens are on the brink of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012. It would also mark just the second time the Canadiens have failed to make the postseason in the past nine seasons.
“They’re in a position that makes them a tough team to play against because they have a lot of young guys who are looking to make a name for themselves,” said Bieksa. “They’ll be playing hard. They’re fast and skilled up front. Those are the teams that pose problems for teams already in the playoffs. We need to make sure we’re up for the challenge and not snooze our way through.”
Adds defenseman Cam Fowler, “They have a lot of team speed. That’s the one thing you think about when you play Montreal. They came into Anaheim and played a really solid, structured game. They have a lot of pride over there. A lot of guys are fighting for jobs. We know what we’re up against. It should be a good test for us.”
SANTORELLI AN OPTION WITH PERRON OUT WITH SHOULDER INJURY
After sitting out the past three games as a healthy scratch, forward Mike Santorelli could draw into the lineup tonight with David Perron out with a shoulder injury. Perron injured his right shoulder early in the second period against Winnipeg, and returned to Anaheim yesterday for an MRI.
“I don’t know how bad it is,” Boudreau said following practice yesterday. “I assume it’s week to week. If someone goes out, someone goes in.”
Santorelli has 9-7—16 points and eight penalty minutes in 63 games this season. His next game will be the 400th of his NHL career.