By Kyle Shohara
A battle for first place will go down tonight, as the Ducks begin a five-game, nine-day road trip in Nashville. Both teams enter tonight’s action with 72 points, the Predators (33-11-6) sitting atop the Ducks (33-12-6) with a game in hand.
And it appears the Ducks may sport a bit of a different look tonight. Head coach Bruce Boudreau, never one to keep lines static, switched up his forward and defensive line combinations during the team’s morning skate at Bridgestone Arena.
After sitting out for two games, Rene Bourque is back in the lineup, as he skated on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Andrew Cogliano took line rushes with Ryan Kesler and Devante Smith-Pelly, Matt Beleskey skated with Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg, and Kyle Palmieri was bumped to the fourth line with Patrick Maroon and Nate Thompson.
As for the defense, Eric Brewer, who skated Tuesday night after missing 24 consecutive games, was paired with Cam Fowler, while Clayton Stoner was reunited with his familiar partner, Sami Vatanen. As for Ben Lovejoy, it appears he’ll be a healthy scratch for the first time this season.
A breakdown of the combinations
Rene Bourque-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano-Ryan Kesler-Devante Smith-Pelly
Matt Beleskey-Rickard Rakell-Jakob Silfverberg
Patrick Maroon-Nate Thompson-Kyle Palmieri
Cam Fowler-Eric Brewer
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Clayton Stoner-Sami Vatanen
This marks the second of three meetings between these clubs in 2014-15. Anaheim won the first matchup on Jan. 4 at Honda Center, tying the game on Beauchemin’s goal with 2:17 remaining in regulation before prevailing in a shootout. Nashville, however, has secured points in 10 of its 13 regular season matchups dating to Jan. 5, 2011.
Nashville is lights out at home, having only lost twice in regulation (20-2-1) all season. The last time the Preds lost at home was on Dec. 6, a 3-1 final vs. Chicago. Since then, they’ve reeled off nine consecutive victories.
“Athletes are always excited about a real tough test,” said Boudreau. “Here, you’re going in against the team with the best record at home and a franchise record nine in a row at home. Two teams with the top points in the league. If you can’t get excited about that, then why are we playing?”
Expected to start for Anaheim is Frederik Andersen, who won his 48th NHL game in 65 career decisions (48-12-5) two days ago vs. Carolina, matching the best start by an NHL goaltender (originally set by Montreal’s Bill Durnan in Dec. 1944). Andersen currently ranks second in the NHL in wins with a career-best 28, having won eight of his last nine starts (8-1-0).
“They play a really solid defensive game,” said Andersen. “That’s why they’re letting in only a few goals. We have to be working really hard down low to make sure we’re getting a lot of shots on their goalie. That’s our goal for this game.”
It looks like Nashville will be getting its No. 1 netminder back, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Pekka Rinne missed eight games with a sprained knee that he sustained Jan. 13. Despite his injury, which sidelined him for three weeks, Rinne still leads the league with 29 wins. The 32-year-old enters tonight’s game with a staggering 1.96 GAA, along with a .931 SV%, both of which rank second among league leaders. Rinne was one of two NHL goalies in the past seven seasons (M. Kiprusoff, 2008-09, CGY) to record each of his team’s first 28 wins.
“It's great to have him out there," Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He looks terrific. He has for a few days. We've actually pushed this off. We just wanted to make sure he got lots of practice under his belt. He's fully ready both from a comfort level of being on the ice and in game shape, as well as his injury. He's ready to go.”
In 17 appearances vs. Anaheim, Rinne is 10-3-4 with a 2.17 GAA.