By Kyle Shohara
CHICAGO – Following a less-than-stellar performance in their 4-3 shootout loss at Columbus two nights ago, the Ducks will look to have a similar bounce-back game like they did earlier in this season-long seven-game road trip.
The journey began with a 6-2 clunker in Pittsburgh on Monday – a game the Ducks, to a man, admit wasn’t even close to what they’re capable of. What they did the following night in Philadelphia was more indicative of the team’s play since coming out of the Christmas break. Anaheim jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back in an eventual 4-1 victory over the Flyers.
So now they have an opportunity to write a familiar script, only this time it’ll have to come against the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks. Though the Blackhawks have won both games thus far against Anaheim this season, the Ducks controlled the majority of play in the opener, a 1-0 overtime loss on Oct. 26 at United Center. The two teams met again in their familiar Black Friday matinee at Honda Center, and again it was Chicago that skated away victorious in overtime.
“I think we'll rise to the challenge," Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “When you play Chicago, if you're not ready you're going to get buried. Our team has been ready and I think it'll be a good game.”
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf says any game against the Blackhawks is a measuring stick.
“Any time you play against them, I think you build that rivalry between each other,” said Getzlaf, alluding to the classic seven-game series in the 2015 Western Conference Final. “Obviously, playoff losses are tough to swallow at any point. I thought we played and competed against these guys very well. A bounce here or there – or whatever you call it – has gone their way and we’re going to try and change that.”
This game is of significance for the Ducks, who continue to fight for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division. They enter tonight’s game with 60 points, one behind the second-place San Jose Sharks (61 points) and four up on the fourth-place Arizona Coyotes (56 points). Anaheim has played 53 games, while Arizona and Vancouver (also 56 points) have each played 54.
John Gibson is expected to get the start for Anaheim. The 22-year-old enters the game with a 12-8-2 record, ranks sixth among league leaders in goals-against average (2.13) and ranks tied for fourth in shutouts (4). It'll be a redemption game for Gibson, who was relieved by Frederik Andersen after giving up six goals in the loss against Pittsburgh.
Ryan Garbutt will face his former team for the first time since the Ducks acquired him on Jan. 21 in exchange for left wing Jiri Sekac. Listed as a center, Garbutt has played left wing on a line with Nate Thompson and Mike Santorelli. Garbutt has been a nice addition, scoring three goals and four points in eight games with Anaheim. He's also being used on the penalty kill, which leads the league in success rate (88.7%). In addition, Garbutt has quite an impressive record over his past 20 games with the Blackhawks and Ducks (18-2-0, 12 wins with CHI, 6 with ANA).
“I think it’ll be fun playing against them,” said Garbutt. “It was a bit of a shock to get traded, but once it settles in, you start to really enjoy the team you’re playing on. I think it’s going to be a real good challenge.”
Sekac, meanwhile, is still in search of his first point with the Blackhawks. He's gone scoreless in four games since the trade, and finished with a minus-1 rating in the team's 4-2 defeat against the Dallas Stars on Thursday.
The loss was Chicago’s second in a row, and the club has not lost three consecutive games all season.
“They don't lose three in a row very often, but we’re playing pretty well right now,” said Garbutt. “We’re just going to [approach it] like any other game, try and come in and give them our best.”
With the news that right wing Chris Stewart was sent back to Anaheim for further evaluation following an upper-body injury in the game against Columbus, the Ducks recalled left wing Nick Ritchie from the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League. The big power forward recorded 15-13=28 points with 55 penalty minutes in 33 games with the Gulls. He ranked tied for second among AHL rookies and tied for ninth overall in power-play goals (8), and co-led the league in first goals (6).
The 20-year-old has collected one assist with four penalty minutes in 11 games for the Ducks this season.
“Obviously it’s great every time,” Ritchie said, on getting recalled. “It’s my second time being up. It’s awesome. I’m excited to be back here. It’s where you want to be.”
The loss of Stewart is a big one because of his chemistry with Getzlaf and David Perron. Stewart was often the forward who’d be first in on the forecheck to win puck battles against the opposition. He was also a vocal leader for the team.
“It’s a big loss for us,” said Boudreau. “He's played extremely well. He’s given us protection. He’s been a cheerleader on the bench. I have nothing but good things to say about Chris. He's been a really good team player and leader for this team.”