We’re down to five games remaining in the regular season, as tonight the Ducks host the Vancouver Canucks for the final time this season. Currently in a seesaw battle with the LA Kings for first place in the Pacific Division, the Ducks held the top spot for 24 hours following an 8-3 victory over the Calgary Flames two nights ago. But with LA beating Calgary last night, the Kings have retaken first place, at least for now.
The big news this morning was the slew of injury updates on several Ducks. Goaltender Frederik Andersen suffered a concussion in Wednesday's game and will not play tonight. Left wing David Perron has a separated shoulder, with an approximate recovery time of 4-6 weeks from the time of injury (March 20 at Winnipeg). Center Rickard Rakell has appendicitis, and is out approximately one week. Defenseman Hampus Lindholm is sick and will not play tonight vs. Vancouver. In light of these injuries, the Ducks have recalled center Chris Wagner and goaltender Anton Khudobin.
Perron spoke with members of the media shortly after the skate. Although he has yet to resume skating, the 27-year-old says he’s been in the weight room since the injury occurred.
“I've been doing bike rides, treadmill, and rehab and lower-body stuff every single day,” said Perron. “I'll be in good shape when I come back.”
His hope is to return for the First Round, which is set to begin in the days following Anaheim’s final game on April 10 in Washington. But Perron knows the importance of patience and not rushing back into the lineup. "We have to be smart here, too, hoping we go all the way and play a long way," Perron said. “I'll listen to what the doctors and trainers have to say. We want to make sure it lasts.
“If there's a positive from all this, it’s the excitement I'll have back on the ice having not played in a while. It's going to be pretty cool to get back into the playoffs.”
It’s another obstacle (or more adversity) the Ducks will have to overcome, which is nothing new for their squad. Ducks center Ryan Kesler summed it up: “Ducks hockey – It's never easy. You go the hard way, not the easy way.”
As for Wagner, it is yet to be determined if he plays tonight. The 24-year-old began the 2015-16 season with Anaheim before being claimed on waivers by Colorado on Nov. 15. Wagner was claimed on waivers again by Anaheim and subsequently assigned to San Diego on Feb. 25. [It was also announced today that the Ducks signed Wagner to a two-year contract extension].
“What he showed us last year, and the few times this year, is when he’s on top of his game, he’s a physical player who can skate and kill penalties,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “He’s a high-energy guy. It was nice for him to come up.”
The Ducks enter tonight’s game having won three straight games and points earned in four straight (3-0-1). The club is also 5-1-1 in its last seven games, 18-4-3 in the last 25 contests and 24-5-3 in the last 32. With the Stanley Cup Playoffs just around the corner, the Ducks are focused on playing their best when the big dance arrives. The same can’t be said for Vancouver (or any Canadian team, for that matter). Vancouver is one of seven teams north of the border that will not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this time around. Not since 1970 has this happened – back when it was just the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nevertheless, the Canucks ended a nine-game losing streak - one short of the franchise record set in 1997 - last night with a 4-2 victory in San Jose. Joe Thornton earned his 1,335th point (assist) in the win, which tied him with Mike Gartner for 30th in all-time NHL scoring.
Like the past six opponents the Ducks have faced (which, coicidentally, have all been Canadian teams), the Canucks will also dress a lineup with an influx of youth, though not quite as heavy as some others.
With new players come unknowns, and the Ducks are well aware of the challenges teams such as these bring.
“You take it easy and you don’t play your game,” said Boudreau, who admitted it’s human nature to do so. “You start cheating. We found out when we’re cheating against teams, whether it was Toronto or Montreal, they’re either scoring a lot of goals against us or beating us. We have to make sure we play the right way.
“Vancouver is a different animal because their lineup looks pretty good. They’re coming off a win last night. They’ll be pretty pumped up to play.”
OTHER INJURY UPDATES
Boudreau says injured defensemen Simon Despres (undisclosed) and Kevin Bieksa (upper body) have been skating, but a timeframe to return has not yet been determined. Despres has missed the past four games, and missed 42 games earlier this season due to a concussion. The Ducks were 18-5-2 with Despres in the lineup after his return from the concussion on Jan. 26. Tonight will be the fourth consecutive game Bieksa misses. The 34-year-old has appeared in 71 games this season.
Rakell (mentioned earlier in the story) had his appendix removed, said Boudreau, who will use Ryan Getzlaf's appendectomy from earlier in the season as a timeline for Rakell's recovery. Getzlaf missed four games following the procedure.