By Kyle Shohara
A road trip that began nine days ago comes to an end tonight, as the Ducks close out their five-game Canadian trek against the Edmonton Oilers. It is a ‘goodbye’ of sorts, as tonight marks the final time the Ducks play inside ‘The House That Wayne Gretzky Built,’ better known as Rexall Place. The arena opened its doors in 1974, and is currently the second oldest NHL arena behind Madison Square Garden (1968). The Oilers will call Rogers Place - an 18,641-seat arena in downtown Edmonton - their new home beginning in 2016-17. Anaheim is 52-35-8 all-time vs. Edmonton and has posted a 24-19-4 record in Alberta's capital city.
The Ducks have gone 2-1-1 thus far on their last extended road trip of the season, with overtime victories against Winnipeg (March 20) and Ottawa (March 26), the latter featuring a dramatic third period comeback that saw Anaheim erase a three-goal deficit, which included the game-tying tally in the final minute of regulation. But sandwiched between those victories were losses in Montreal (regulation, March 22) and an overtime defeat in Toronto (March 24). Anaheim staged a rally in its OTL against the Maple Leafs, but lackadaisical play through the first 40 minutes forced the Ducks to dig themselves out of a 4-1 hole.
They’ve been without the services of a handful of key players at various times during this trip, including forwards Ryan Kesler (personal matter) and David Perron (shoulder), and defensemen Kevin Bieksa (upper body), Simon Despres (further evaluation) and Sami Vatanen (upper body). Chris Stewart, out of the lineup since Feb. 11 with a broken jaw, returned to the lineup on Saturday against the Senators.
The Ducks are expected to get their shutdown center back tonight after missing the past two games to tend to a personal matter. Kesler arrived in Edmonton last night, skated this morning, and will center his familiar line with Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg. Kesler returns to the lineup riding a three-game point streak (2-2—4), in addition to 2-3—5 points in his past five games, 5-11—16 in his past 17 and 8-16—24 with a +13 rating over his past 23. His best work, however, is shutting down the opposition’s top line, and tonight he’ll likely go head to head against Connor McDavid – the first overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. An all-situations player, Kesler leads the league with 155 shorthanded faceoff wins and also paces the NHL in overall faceoff win percentage (59.0%).
Vatanen, too, will return to the lineup tonight for the first time since March 9 at Colorado. He’ll replace Korbinian Holzer, who’s dealing with an illness.
Goaltenders tonight will be John Gibson (17-11-3, 2.13 GAA, .917 SV%) for Anaheim and Cam Talbot (20-25-4, 2.52 GAA, .918 SV%) for Edmonton.
MAROON FINDING SUCCESS
Patrick Maroon would be the first to admit his time with the Ducks this season didn't live up his expectations. After coming off a career-best 24-point campaign in 2014-15, the power forward only managed four goals and 13 points in 56 games to start this season. Maroon was also a minus-13 over that span.
A trade to Edmonton on Feb. 29 rejuvenated the outgoing and well-liked St. Louis, Missouri native, and tonight he's expected to skate alongside McDavid and sniper Jordan Eberle. Maroon has 5-6—11 points and a plus-8 rating in 12 games with the Oilers. "Big Dog," as he was known around here, has given the youthful Oilers some much-needed bite and a player who can work along the boards and in front of the cage.
Maroon inflicted some damage on his former California rivals last week. With a goal and three points, Maroon's second career three-point effort earned him the first start of the game in Edmonton's 6-3 victory at San Jose on Thursday. He followed it up with a two-goal game two nights later in LA.
“It’s been going good so far,” Maroon said recently. “The coaches and the brass have given me a chance to play in the top six. I have to seize the opportunity. I’ve got to play good, because this could be a spot for the taking and maybe for my future, it could be good for me. Obviously, playing with [McDavid] and [Eberle] is pretty easy.
“It's going to be odd playing [Anaheim] for the first time, but I'm excited to play. I'm sure I'll yak at them a little bit. I made some really close friends over there and I'll always be friends down the road.”
Brandon Pirri - Ryan Getzlaf - Chris Stewart
Jamie McGinn - Rickard Rakell - Corey Perry
Andrew Cogliano - Ryan Kesler - Jakob Silfverberg
Nate Thompson - Shawn Horcoff - Ryan Garbutt
Cam Fowler – Shea Theodore
Hampus Lindholm - Josh Manson
Clayton Stoner – Sami Vatanen
Patrick Maroon - Connor McDavid - Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall - Leon Draisaitl - Nail Yakupov
Lauri Korpikoski - Mark Letestu - Zack Kassian
Matt Hendricks - Anton Lander - Iiro Pakarinen
Andrej Sekera - Mark Fayne
Griffin Reinhart - Jordan Oesterle
Darnell Nurse - Adam Clendening