By Kyle Shohara
After a feel-good 4-1 victory last night against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Ducks boarded their charter for a 59-minute flight to Nashville, where they touched down shortly after 11 p.m. local time. Tonight's contest at Bridgestone Arena wraps up Anaheim's third set of back-to-back games this season and, surprisingly, the three-game season series between the two clubs, with each winning on home ice.
The Ducks are 3-1-1 in back-to-backs this season, going 1-1-0 in the second game.
With backup goaltender Anton Khudobin manning the crease last night, expect to see Frederik Andersen between the pipes tonight. Andersen enters the game with a 3-5-4 record, 2.33 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. His last start came on November 11 vs. Edmonton, a 4-3 overtime loss. Andersen has allowed two goals or less in nine of his 13 appearances.
The Ducks were embarrassed the last time they were here. In that game, which began a winless five-game road trip, the Predators scored four unanswered in an eventual 5-1 victory before Jiri Sekac found the back of the net on the power play in the third period.
“We’ve got to come in here and play better against this team,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “Confidence builds as it goes. It's likely a snowball that gets bigger going downhill. We won our first game [last night] and it felt good. But today's a day where we’re playing a much tougher opponent. If we could sneak one out of here, it would make it easier to gain confidence going into Florida.”
Anaheim’s recent success (points in seven of eight, including five wins) hasn’t gone unnoticed to Predators head coach Peter Laviolette.
“They’re playing well right now, skating hard and they’re physical,” he said. “They have a heavy forecheck. They've got talented players. Good size and speed; lots of things that add up to a team potentially finding success. It should be a good game tonight. We expect them to continue to play the way they have been.”
Tonight concludes a five-game homestand for the Predators who are 2-1-1 thus far. They’ve scored seven goals in each of those wins.
Boudreau says his squad will have to be on top of its game, especially on the defensive side of the puck.
“We want to have good gaps,” he said. “We want to move our feet. We had allowed four goals three games in a row, and then we got it down to one last game. This is a much better offensive team, but if we could [limit Nashville] to one or two tonight, we’ve got a shot.”
Ducks forwards will have to be aware of Nashville’s high-flying defense, led by Roman Josi, who paces Preds blueliners with 12 points (4g/8a). Furthermore, Predators defensemen are tied for first in points in the NHL with 43 and are first with 16 goals. No other team has defensemen with more than 11 goals.
“Our defense is always jumping into the play,” said Predators forward Mike Fisher. “They all skate well and make good plays. That’s important and a part of our offense. It's hard to defend when you’ve got guys coming all the time and your D is up in the play and your forwards are making smart plays. That’s a big part of our team.”
Earlier today, the Ducks recalled defenseman Shea Theodore from San Diego of the American Hockey League.
The 20-year-old collected eight points (1g/7a) with a +4 rating and eight penalty minutes in 13 games with the Gulls this season. At the time of his recall, Theodore ranked tied for fifth among AHL rookie defensemen in scoring and tied for fourth in assists. The 6-2, 195-pound blueliner was also third among Gulls leaders in assists and tied for fifth in scoring. Theodore was named the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Defenseman of the Year in 2014-15 and concluded his WHL career as Seattle’s all-time leader in goals (58) and points (212) by a defenseman.
It remains to be seen if Theodore makes his NHL debut tonight. If so, it would be the second consecutive game in which a Duck has skated in his first career game. Left wing Nick Ritchie delivered four hits in his debut last night at Carolina.