By Kyle Shohara
SAN JOSE -- Before the Ducks officially begin their 2015-16 regular season tonight in San Jose, the club made final preparations this morning in their pregame skate at SAP Center.
Believe it or not, the Ducks are the very last team to open the season. By the time the puck drops tonight (approximately 7:45 p.m. PT), some teams will have already played three games before the Ducks get a taste of one. But that's just fine for this team, which has had a week's worth of practice leading into tonight's game against the rival Sharks. San Jose, meanwhile, last played on Wednesday, a 5-1 triumph over the Los Angeles Kings on Opening Night.
“It seems like it's been a long time, quite frankly, watching games Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I think the guys are anxious to go. I think energy is going to be there. You just want see good plays.”
As expected, tonight's starting goaltender will be Frederik Andersen, who went 35-12-5 with three shutouts, a 2.38 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 54 games last season. Backing up Andersen will be Anton Khudobin, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason.
Several Ducks are expected to debut tonight, including defenseman Kevin Bieksa (#2), left wing Carl Hagelin (#26), center Shawn Horcoff (#22) and right wings Mike Santorelli (#25) and Chris Stewart (#29).
Perhaps the Ducks can channel some of their previous October success into this month. The club began last season with a league-leading 9-3-0 record in 12 October games, pacing the NHL in wins, standings points (18) and regulation/overtime wins (8). Corey Perry led the league in goals (10) and co-led in power-play goals (4), while Andersen led league goaltenders in goals-against average (1.60) and co-led in wins (7).
“It's nice to get the first one going and get the season underway,” said Perry, who could begin tonight’s game on a line that doesn’t include longtime linemate Ryan Getzlaf. Perry has been skating with Jiri Sekac and Rickard Rakell throughout training camp and preseason, while Getzlaf has been taking line rushes with Hagelin and Stewart. “We've been watching other teams play for the last couple of days. We've had some good practices this week. I think we’re ready to go. We just have to go out there and do the right things.”
The Sharks are led by Joe Pavelski, who was officially named team captain on Monday. Pavelski is the ninth full-time captain in franchise history, with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture serving as alternate captains. San Jose went all of last season without a captain. Instead, they went with four alternates (Pavelski, Thornton and Patrick Marleau as full-time alternates, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic as a rotating alternate).
San Jose’s bench boss, Peter DeBoer, says playing the Ducks is a chance for his club to “make a statement.”
“Everyone is talking about them as the best team in the league and being a Stanley Cup contender, and rightfully so,” DeBoer said. “It's an opportunity for us to see where we stack up.”
On the Sharks, Boudreau says his team will have to be ready at first puck drop.
“We’re going to have to play quick,” Boudreau said. “We watched them play the other night. They worked really fast. We have to be ready to up our pace no matter how fast we thought we were skating. Whether it's this week in practice or whatever, it's going to be much faster. You will have to make quicker decisions and quicker reads because they’re going to be on top of you quicker."