After a rather unfruitful two-game road trip that saw the Ducks suffer two consecutive regulation losses for the first time since mid-December, they return home for a three-game homestand that begins tonight against the New Jersey Devils.
It’s also the fourth annual Social Media Night at Honda Center, a night that, among other things, includes several interactive opportunities for fans via the Ducks’ various social media channels, the Ducks’ official mobile app, in-arena and on the Fox Sports Prime Ticket telecast. For more, visit AnaheimDucks.com/SocialMediaNight.
The Ducks (37-21-9, 83 pts.) enter tonight's game firmly planted in a tightly-contest Pacific Division race with the first place LA Kings and third place San Jose Sharks. Anaheim sits in second place with 83 points - two back of the Kings, with both teams having played 67 games. (The Kings face the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center later tonight). Meanwhile, the Ducks hold a one point edge on the Sharks, who have played 68 games. (The Sharks play tomorrow at home against the Boston Bruins).
The stretch run will only get tougher mentally and physically because beginning tonight, the Ducks will play every other night until their final two regular-season games on April 9 at Colorado and April 10 at Washington.
“You don’t want to take any days off,” said Rickard Rakell. “You want to get a good feeling here at the end. All the teams are still kind of battling for a playoff spot, so the tempo is ramping up. It’s better hockey out there.”
As for the Devils (33-29-7, 73 pts.), their 2-0 California road trip thus far has brought them to within six points of the second and final wild card spot currently held by the Detroit Red Wings. New Jersey began its West Coast trip with a 3-0 win in San Jose, and then gutted out a 2-1 overtime victory in LA on Saturday night. Three goals are aplenty for the Devils, who rank last in goals per game (2.19). Anaheim’s recent 11-game win streak and subsequent goal scoring outburst bumped them to 25th in GF/GP (2.45).
“Their work ethic is tremendous,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “If you watch the LA game, they gave up two shots in the first period. That’s almost unheard of in LA. They just outworked them in every corner. They’re a team that’s won two games in California, and that doesn’t happen a lot. They’re probably pretty darn determined to come in here and get a sweep. It’s up to us to stop them.”
Frederik Andersen is expected to get the start for Anaheim. Andersen was in net the first time these two clubs met on Dec. 19 at Prudential Center (2-1 Ducks win). The 26-year-old turned aside 21-of-22 shots for his 60th career win and became the third goaltender to debut in the last 30 years to win at least 60 in his first 100 NHL games. Despite giving up four goals in Anaheim's 5-2 loss at St. Louis on Friday, Andersen continues to lead the league in goals-against average (1.93, min. 15 games) and ranks tied for second in save percentage (.930) since Christmas. He's won 13 of his last 15 decisions (13-1-1) and ranks tied for ninth among league leaders in GAA (2.27).
Of course, tonight marks the return of former Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri, who is having himself quite the season in the Garden State. Palmieri has already established new career-highs with 25 goals (his previous high was 14, set twice: 2014-15 and 2013-14) and 45 points (previous high was 14-17—31 in 71 games, 2013-14) this season. The Montvale, New Jersey native was Anaheim's first choice (26th overall) in the 2009 NHL Draft and spent the first five seasons of his NHL career (2010-15) with the Ducks, earning 43-46--89 points in 198 regular season games.
Former second-round pick Devante Smith-Pelly is also a Devil these days. The 42nd overall selection in 2010 was traded to New Jersey in exchange for forward Stefan Matteau on Feb. 29. Smith-Pelly was previously a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Boudreau says Palmieri’s breakout season doesn’t come as a surprise. “Every meeting we had, I told him he should be a 25-goal scorer,” Boudreau said. “He’s getting more opportunity this year with this team. Unfortunately with us, we always had [Corey] Perry, [Teemu] Selanne and guys in front of him, as a young guy. Now he’s at the forefront and in the prime of his career.”
Rakell sat a few stalls down from Palmieri over the past couple seasons, but the young Swede says tonight is all about one thing. “It’s fun to see they’re doing so well, but players come and go all the time,” said Rakell. “We’re just focusing on getting two points tonight.”
Tonight will likely mark the return of Shawn Horcoff, who recently completed his 20-game suspension for performing-enhancing drug use. The 37-year-old was eligible to return for the game last Friday, but did not dress.
Horcoff could replace center Nate Thompson in the lineup, who played Friday, but was “banged up,” as Boudreau put it, following Wednesday’s game in Colorado.
Despite not appearing in action in nearly two months (his last game was Jan. 23 at Detroit), Horcoff’s on- and off-ice work leading into his return should make the transition a little easier.
“It's been a little while, but I'm going out there and getting a feel for the game,” Horcoff said. “It might take a little bit, but I'm going to get involved early, do what I do, bring what I can to the team, and get a big win for us.”
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