By Kyle Shohara
Anaheim’s marathon eight-game homestand comes to an end tonight against the Minnesota Wild at Honda Center. Through the first seven games, the Ducks have compiled a 4-3 record and have gone 7-3-1 since the Christmas break, leading the NHL in goals against per game (1.73) and ranking second in PK% (92.3%) and third in PP% (31.0%).
A win tonight would put the Ducks (19-18-7, 45 points) two points out of third place in the Pacific Division, which is currently held by the Arizona Coyotes. The Ducks are also four points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.
The first wild card spot is currently held by Minnesota (22-15-8, 52 points), which enters the game in dire need of a win. The Wild have lost four straight games, have been shut out in the past two and have scored five goals in their past five games (1-4-0). This marks the opening of a three-game California road swing, which continues tomorrow in Los Angeles and Saturday in San Jose. Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau believes the first game of any team’s road trip is always the most dangerous for the home squad, so expect to see the Wild come out with plenty of jump tonight.
“They’re coming in here with a pretty determined will,” said Boudreau. “It should be a good game. They’re ahead of us, and we’d like them not to get further ahead of us, but at the same time, we just need to play as good as we can. Hopefully two points follow.”
“We look at this as a four-point game and as an opportunity to gain ground on a team,” said Kevin Bieksa. “We still have a game in hand on them, so it’s very important to narrow the gap. This is a team we could be fighting against for a playoff spot. It’s important to assert ourselves and get two points.”
John Gibson will be between the pipes for Anaheim with Anton Khudobin serving as the backup. Frederik Andersen is still not ready for game action, Boudreau confirmed earlier today.
Also in the lineup is Sami Vatanen, who missed practice yesterday with the flu.
Don’t be surprised if Boudreau opts to use the line combinations from the third period of Sunday’s game vs. Los Angeles: (Note: the fourth line could also include Santorelli and/or Sekac).
Perron also practiced with the first power-play unit yesterday, which included Getzlaf, Perry, Rakell and defenseman Shea Theodore.
FOWLER SKATES, WILL TRAVEL ON UPCOMING TRIP
Out since Dec. 27 with a sprained knee, Cam Fowler was on the ice today for the team’s optional skate. Fowler injured his knee in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers that night, and it was later determined that he’d miss approximately 4-6 weeks. It’s not the first time Fowler has dealt with a knee injury. The 24-year-old suffered a sprained MCL on March 14, 2014 at Colorado and missed 3 1/2 weeks.
Comparably speaking, Fowler says he feels ahead of schedule this time around.
“The way I’m skating and the things I’m able to do now, just three weeks into it, is better than where I was at the last time with the knee reacting the way I want it to,” Fowler said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to get back as soon as I can, but I can’t rush into anything.”
Fowler says he’s been skating for the past three or four days in addition to workouts in the weight room.
“We’re starting to pick the pace up with not too many effects on the knee,” Fowler said. “That’s extremely positive. No specific timetable, but right now I’m really happy where I’m at.”