The Ducks may see a new face in the lineup tonight as they take on the New York Rangers at Honda Center. Brandon Pirri, acquired on Feb. 29 from the Florida Panthers in exchange for a sixth-round selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, has fully recovered from his ankle injury suffered Feb. 14, and could make his first appearance in a Ducks sweater tonight.
The 24-year-old has appeared in 157 career NHL games with Chicago and Florida, collecting 46-29—75 points with a +9 rating and 52 penalty minutes. Pirri posted 11-13—24 points in 52 games this season with Florida and has 33 goals in his last two NHL seasons with the Panthers (101 games). The Toronto native had 22 goals in just 49 games last season for Florida.
Pirri took part in his first full practice with the team on Monday morning, but was skating on his own shortly after arriving in Anaheim following the trade.
This morning, he skated alongside Ryan Getzlaf and David Perron. When asked in the locker room if he’s in tonight, Pirri smiled, chuckled and played it close to the vest.
“It’s still a coach’s decision, but I’ve been skating for a while and I feel like I’m getting really close,” Pirri said. “I’m just going to try and find chemistry quickly. It’s getting down to the end of the year and things happen quickly.”
As for skating on left wing alongside Getzlaf and Perron, Pirri says he’ll have to be ready at all times. “I’m bringing a shoot-first mentality,” Pirri said. “Those two are really talented and they’ve had a lot of success. I’m just going to get open because they both can find you. If you’re not expecting it, that’s when they’re going to find you.”
Perron says Pirri will be a nice fit on the line if the trio can control the play in the offensive zone. “We’ll try to get our cycle game going,” said Perron. “If he can jump in on that and be a force, and if we do what we’re expected to do, we’ll be fine. He’s a really good player who has proven himself in the league.”
Although defenseman Kevin Bieksa took part in the morning skate, he won’t play tonight, as confirmed by Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. Bieksa is still dealing with a lower-body injury that Boudreau says is improving. Sami Vatanen did not take part in the skate, as the offensive defenseman is still dealing with an upper-body injury. Mike Santorelli and Nate Thompson are likely to be the scratches up front for Anaheim.
John Gibson is expected to get the start for Anaheim, while it appears to be Antti Raanta for New York. With the stellar one-two punch the Ducks have in net, along with Frederik Andersen, who started the past two games, you can’t go wrong with either one. In fact, the Ducks are the only team to have two goaltenders currently in the NHL's top 10 for goals-against average this season. Gibson ranks second among all NHL goaltenders with a 2.07 GAA, while Andersen is eighth with a 2.23 GAA.
Gibson was in net for the first meeting of the season between these two clubs back on Dec. 22 at Madison Square Garden. Rickard Rakell led the Ducks with 1-1—2 points in the 3-2 overtime loss, while Gibson made 19 saves.
Boudreau says the Rangers are as deep as any team in the league and have the fortune of rolling all four lines and six defensemen. Their lineup got a big boost when Rick Nash returned two games ago after missing 20 consecutive games with a deep bone bruise in his left leg. Nash has 12-21—33 points in 47 games this season, and led the Rangers with six shots on goal in their game on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nash has 19-17—36 points in 37 career games against Anaheim, including points in 14 of his past 16 (12 goals, seven assists).
Something to keep in mind is New York’s success against Pacific Division teams. Entering tonight’s game, the Rangers have posted a 7-2-2 record this season, and, dating back to last season, are 18-4-3, including an 8-2-1 road mark.
Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg combined for 10 points and a +12 rating in the victory over New Jersey, and tonight figure to line up against the Rangers’ top line of Nash, Derick Brassard (25-26—51 points) and Mats Zuccarello (22-31—53 points).
“We need everybody tonight,” said Kesler. “It’s going to be tough to match them, but at the same time, we have four really good lines, too.”