By Kyle Shohara
After a lengthy road trip that saw the Ducks go 2-2-1, they’ve returned home to host the Washington Capitals tonight at Honda Center. It’s been 12 days since they last played on home ice, in what was a 5-4 overtime victory against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Although this homestand is brief (all of two games which concludes Wednesday night vs. Tampa Bay), the Ducks will look to continue their trademark home dominance. Anaheim has won five of the last six games (5-1-0) and seven of the last nine (7-2-0) here at Honda Center, and enter tonight’s action with a 19-6-3 home record overall.
With the team holding an optional skate as it usually does for 5 p.m. home games, tonight’s starting goaltender and line combinations won’t be revealed until pregame warm ups. For what it’s worth, John Gibson is coming off a 35-save victory last Thursday at Carolina.
While the Ducks rank second among NHL teams in standings points (77), trailing Nashville’s 82, Washington enters tonight’s action with a lot more on the line. Though the Caps hold the first of two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference with 68 points, five ahead of the second wild card spot (Boston) and nine up on the Panthers, Washington is only three points away from the third place New York Rangers and four behind Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps failed to earn a point last night in a 3-1 loss to the LA Kings at Staples Center.
Former Capitals head coach and now current Ducks bench boss Bruce Boudreau knows the key to success against the Caps is, among other things, simply staying out of the penalty box.
“You just can’t take penalties against them because that one guy is lethal,” said Boudreau, obviously referring to goal scorer extraordinaire Alex Ovechkin. “I know they’re good. They’re big, they’re strong, and they’re a fast team.”
Ovechkin scored Washington’s lone goal last night on the power play and finished with a game-high five shots. Although he was goalless against the Ducks in the first meeting of the season on Feb. 6, Ovechkin has still scored 18 goals in his last 21 games and has 16 points in his last 13 games (12g/4a). Ovechkin leads the NHL in shots (271), ranks second in goals (34) and power-play goals (15), tied for second in game-winning goals (7), tied for sixth in hits (183) and 12th in the league in points (53).
And in 10 career games vs. Anaheim, Ovechkin has 15 points (7g/8a), including his first career hat trick on Jan. 13, 2006. Ovechkin, then a rookie at the time, scored all three of Washington’s goals in its 3-2 overtime victory in Anaheim.
Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen appeared in his first career game against the Capitals nine days ago at Verizon Center, and says it isn’t just the Ovechkin line that produces.
“Their first two lines are very skilled,” said Vatanen. “Evgeny Kuznetsov can make plays. They have good third and fourth lines that play hard and battle on every shift. We can’t turn the puck over.”
Kuznetsov, a first-round pick (26th overall) in the 2010 NHL Draft, had an assist in last night’s loss at LA, his ninth point in his last 10 games (2g/7a). Kuznetsov ranks seventh among NHL rookies in assists (18) and ninth in points (24).