By Kyle Shohara
To quote the theme song of an iconic sitcom from the '70s…“Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.” After a 7,300-mile journey that took them to seven different cities and four different time zones, the Ducks will enjoy the comforts of home for a few weeks as tonight they open a five-game homestand against the Calgary Flames. As a reminder, today’s game is at 4 p.m., and with the 91 freeway closure, fans are encouraged to allow extra time to get to Honda Center.
Anaheim finished the road trip with a 5-1-1 record and .786 points percentage, which ended up being the club’s most successful road trip of seven games or longer in franchise history. The Ducks have been part of 18 continuous road trips of six games or more since their debut season in 1993-94, including six that have lasted seven games or more
“Any time you’re on the road for that long of a time, it certainly takes a toll on you mentally and physically,” said defenseman Cam Fowler. “It’s nice to be home. We’ll enjoy the homestand and hopefully have more success. It’s always easier when you’re winning hockey games. It’s certainly nice being back.”
The Ducks enter tonight’s game tied with Washington for the NHL’s top overall record since Christmas, going 18-4-2 overall for a .793 points percentage. The club is 11-1-1 in the last 13 games and has won four straight (4-0-0) heading into this homestand. The Ducks are also riding a six-game winning streak vs. the Pacific along with a 10-1-1 mark in their last 12 intra-division games.
They’ve also taken the first three of this five-game season series against the Flames, including a wild 6-4 victory on Presidents’ Day at Scotiabank Saddledome. Their other wins came on Nov. 24 (5-3 W at ANA) and Dec. 29 (1-0 W at CGY). There’s also this incredible stat: Anaheim has won 21 consecutive home games over Calgary, the longest home win streak vs. one opponent in club history. The Ducks have not lost at home to the Flames since Jan. 19, 2004 and are 23-8-2 overall vs. Calgary dating to Nov. 29, 2007.
There’s familiarity with the Flames, having played them three times already this season and five times in the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. And although the Ducks are aware of what the Flames bring, it still comes down to execution.
“We have a good understanding of their group and the style they like to play,” said Fowler, who has five assists in two games against the Flames this season. “Not much has changed with them since the playoffs last year. They come at you with a lot of speed. You have to eliminate those first couple of lines from getting on the scoreboard. That’s where they get a lot of their offense.”
Ducks forward Rickard Rakell adds, “We know what kind of team they are. We played them a lot last year and had a good series against them in the playoffs. We’ve had some good games against them this year. We just need to execute.”
Flames head coach Bob Hartley already confirmed Jonas Hiller getting the start in goal tonight. It’s been Hiller’s net ever since Calgary's No. 1 netminder Karri Ramo went down with what turned out to be a torn ACL and meniscus damage during a Feb. 11 game at San Jose. Ramo will undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
For Hiller, facing his former club has been anything but successful. In his past two starts against Anaheim, he was yanked after giving up four goals on 17 shots on Feb. 15 (22:21), and lasted all of 22:13 in Game 1 of the second round against Anaheim, allowing three goals on 14 shots. Hiller didn't play for the remainder of the series.
The 34-year-old is coming off a 26-save performance in a 5-2 victory at home against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday that kept Calgary’s faint playoff hopes alive. The Flames enter tonight’s game with 55 points -- 12 points behind San Jose (3rd in Pacific) and 10 points behind Nashville (second wild card spot).
“They’re playing for their lives, so they’re coming in motivated,” said Fowler. “We have to make sure we’re ready for that test.”
This do-or-die mentality means it’s likely the Flames will be flying out of the gate. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau knows his club will have to be ready to meet their push.
“They won [on Friday] so they’re going to come in here with a lot of jump,” Boudreau said. “We don’t want to be the team that sits there and isn’t ready for them.”