By Kyle Shohara
Morning Skate Photos
SAN JOSE – Earlier this week, Ryan Kesler said this current three-game stretch was an opportunity to prove to everyone that the Ducks are the best team in the NHL. They got off to a great start, dispatching the playoff-contending Vancouver Canucks by a 4-0 score in their own barn. The Ducks got goals from Matt Beleskey, Kyle Palmieri, Rickard Rakell and an empty-netter from Patrick Maroon, while strong defensive-zone play allowed for a fairly easy night for Frederik Andersen, whose 17-save performance earned him his third career shutout.
With the victory, the Ducks became the first team to reach 70 points this season (32-10-6) – three more than the Nashville Predators (31-10-5, 67 points) for first place in the Western Conference and NHL overall standings. The victory was also their sixth in a row, tying them with the Detroit Red Wings for the longest current winning streak in the league.
And within the Pacific Division, Anaheim holds a commanding 14-point lead ahead of second-place San Jose. But while the Ducks have only lost 10 games in regulation this season, three have come against the Sharks.
The Ducks enter tonight’s action with a 1-3-0 record vs. San Jose in 2014-15, their lone victory occurring on Dec 22 at Honda Center. A late-game comeback was needed just to ensure a point, and a Kesler goal 58 seconds into overtime (as Sharks defenseman Brent Burns was exiting the penalty box) gave the Ducks a 3-2 win. In the three other games against San Jose, the Ducks have been outscored 13-5.
“They’ve got a good power play, and everybody knows that,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “We’ve got to try to stay out of the box, but we’ve said that for four games.”
“When our team isn’t worried about penalties and we’re staying out of the box, we’re very effective,” said Andrew Cogliano. “We need to show them that we can respond because they’ve beat us a couple of times pretty handily. It’s our job to come in here and play a strong game like they’ve done in our building.”
Anaheim’s second-leading goal scorer Matt Beleskey says he enjoys coming to SAP Center for a variety of reasons. “It’s always loud, always a fun game to play” he said. “It’s a big rivalry game for us. It’s going to be a big game.”
If the morning skate was any indication, expect to see Ilya Bryzgalov get the start for Anaheim. Bryzgalov has a 1-2-0 record, 3.71 GAA and .854 SV%. The Sharks are expected to go with Antti Niemi.
MOMENTUM ON THEIR SIDE
Despite recent struggles vs. San Jose, Anaheim’s most recent victories have all come against divisional foes. The Ducks have gone 3-0-0 in the first three of four straight games vs. Pacific Division opponents (LA, Calgary, Vancouver), which the club owns a 11-3-5 record against overall. Anaheim has won eight of its last nine (8-1-0, including its current six-game run) and has points in 11 of the last 13 (10-2-1, 21 pts.). The Ducks are 23-0-5 when scoring first this season, the lone NHL team without a regulation loss in such situations. Anaheim (16-0-2) also joins New Jersey as the only two clubs without a regulation loss when leading after one.
BACK TO BACKS
Tonight begins Anaheim’s ninth set of back-to-back games this season. Awaiting them in Orange County are the Chicago Blackhawks, rested and determined to erase the sting of a 4-3 loss to the LA Kings at Staples Center on Wednesday night. Chicago failed to hold three separate leads in that game, and gave up the eventual game winner with 3:37 remaining in regulation.
The Ducks are 9-5-2 in back-to-back games, including 4-2-2 in the opener. Dating to the start of the 2013-14 season, Anaheim is 29-10-5 in back-to-back situations and 16-4-2 in the second game, an NHL best by points percentage (.773).