By Kyle Shohara
Prepare the ice bags because both clubs might need them when this game is all said and done. It figures to be a “man’s game” tonight between the Ducks and Blues, as it always is, with two crucial points on the line once more.
Only a handful of players took part in Anaheim’s optional morning skate, so line combinations and tonight’s starting goaltender remain to be seen. Bruce Boudreau said yesterday that John Gibson, who left Wednesday’s game 41 seconds into the third period, is 100 percent and could start tonight if he’s tabbed.
Discipline was a word used quite a bit inside the locker room today by the Ducks. They became unraveled at times and let their emotions get the best of them two nights ago in a game in which they gave Toronto six power-play opportunities. They’ll need to be mentally stronger tonight against a Blues squad that comes into the game with the fourth-best PP unit (in terms of success rate) in the NHL. The Blues, clicking at 22.2%, have converted on the power play in four straight games which is their second longest stretch of the season (longest: five games from Dec. 10 - 17).
“When you’re playing a team like this, with a power play that good, we have to be able to stay disciplined and get into the rhythm of the game,” said Ryan Getzlaf. “I know their lineup and the guys they have that can score goals.”
One of those players is Vladimir Tarasenko, who enters the game riding a three-game point streak (2g/2a) and shares the league lead in goals (24) and ranks tied for fourth in points (43). Since the beginning of December, his 19 points are second-only to Chicago’s Patrick Kane (23) while he and teammate Kevin Shattenkirk (9) are just one point shy of the overall lead in power-play points in that span.
“I don’t know if anybody really slows him down,” said Boudreau. “It’s about containing him, knowing where he is all the time and playing above him. It’s about taking his time and space away because he can stickhandle in a phone booth. At the same time, if you eliminate him, he’s not going to be going anywhere.”
Each with 15 points on the power play, Tarasenko and Shattenkirk aren’t the only weapons on the Blues’ PP. Alexander Steen has 15 points, Blues captain David Backes has eight (including four goals) and Paul Stastny has seven points.
“Their power play doesn’t depend on one guy because they’re a shooting power play,” said Boudreau. “They get it, they shoot and work off of that. They have their big guys to go in front of the net to get the dirty goals. We can’t take penalties, but if we do, it’s a great test for us.”
With where they are in the standings and how tight the Pacific Division playoff race is, Carl Hagelin says dropping consecutive games is not an option, nor should it ever be.
“We’re in a situation where we can’t let that happen. We need wins. It’s important for us to get two points.”