By Kyle Shohara
The Ducks and Sharks conclude their four-game season series tonight inside Honda Center with plenty at stake for both clubs.
Anaheim (22-18-7, 51 points) enters the game in fourth place in the Pacific Division, two points behind third-place Arizona with two games in hand and five points behind San Jose (26-18-4, 56 points) with a game in hand. The Sharks are seven points behind LA, but only four points from being on the outside looking in. This marks the first of three consecutive divisional games for the Ducks, who travel up the freeway to take on the Kings on Thursday and host the Coyotes on Friday. These are also two of the hottest teams in the league over the past 10 games. Anaheim comes in with a 7-3-0 mark and San Jose has gone 8-0-2 over that span.
“Both teams know each other very well because a lot of the personnel has been the same for the last few years,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “There’s not a lot of love between the two teams. When you get together, you know it’s going to be a hard game. They’re ahead of us in the standings and we want to catch them.”
“Playing the Sharks, they might be a playoff opponent, so we want to play them hard and not let them feel comfortable playing against us,” said defenseman Simon Despres. “We’re well-rested. It’s good to get back into it. We know there are a lot of games this month. To get off the bat with a big game against the Sharks is good [for us].”
Fresh off their triumphant All-Star appearance in Nashville over the weekend, right wing Corey Perry and goaltender John Gibson were on the ice this morning for the club’s 30-minute pregame skate.
“We know what’s at stake,” said Perry. “We know what we have to do to make the playoffs. They’re a team we’re chasing.”
Also on the ice was defenseman Cam Fowler, who makes his return to the lineup tonight after missing 13 games with a left knee sprain. Fowler was paired with Kevin Bieksa during line rushes this morning.
“He’s our best defenseman, so when you lose him, it’s difficult,” said Boudreau. “We did a good job without him, but we’re really happy to have him back. He’s a first-pass, moving-out-of-his-zone kind of guy. He can skate and defend. All those things are qualities you sure miss when he’s not there.”
Boudreau opted to pair Fowler with Bieksa because of familiarity from earlier this season, but he says pairings can change given the circumstance. Remember, it was Fowler who developed great chemistry with Despres after he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline last season. Fowler and Despres remained a pair throughout all three rounds of the playoffs last spring.
With the pairings as they are right now, Fowler and Bieksa, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, and Despres with Sami Vatanen, all six skaters are playing their “natural” sides, which means left-handed shooters are on the left and righties are on their right.
Frederik Andersen will get the start for Anaheim. Andersen took part in the full practice yesterday, but Gibson was not in attendance.
“When you go to the All-Star Game, not that I’ve ever been to it, but it seems like there’s a hectic schedule,” said Boudreau. “Most players get a day off or so when they get back, and that’s what we were thinking with Freddie [starting].”
Andersen's last start came in the final game before the All-Star break, a 6-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Jan. 26. He made 32 saves in the win and has allowed two goals or less in 17 of his 24 appearances this season.