By Kyle Shohara
With defenseman Cam Fowler on injured reserve, the rest of the d-core will have to raise its game as the Ducks begin a pivotal road trip tonight against the Calgary Flames. The next three games are all against divisional opponents, with contests on New Year’s Eve at Edmonton and New Year’s evening at Vancouver.
Hampus Lindholm (28:03) and Sami Vatanen (26:01) took on big minutes in Anaheim’s 4-2 victory on Sunday night in Fowler’s absence, and both had strong performances. They’ll need to be that good, if not better, on this trip, which could propel the Ducks back into playoff position.
Tonight will mark the NHL debut of young defenseman Shea Theodore, recalled yesterday from San Diego of the American Hockey League, as reported by Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register. The buzz around the 20-year-old from Langley, British Columbia reached new heights last season when he was named the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Defenseman of the Year. He concluded his WHL career as Seattle’s all-time leader in goals (58) and points (212) by a defenseman. Theodore also won gold with Team Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal, earning two points (1g/1a) with a +12 rating in seven tournament games.
“Here I am, and I’m pretty excited about it,” said Theodore earlier today. “I just need to keep it simple and get my legs under me in the first couple of shifts. Last year, playing in World Juniors, those were big games, especially with that home crowd. I’m going to try and approach it the same way. I’m looking forward to it. My parents are coming, my sister, too. It’ll be nice to have them here.”
Theodore had 16 points (4g/12a) with 14 penalty minutes in 27 games with San Diego this season. At the time of his recall, Theodore ranked tied for third among team leaders in power-play goals (3), third in assists and tied for fourth in scoring.
“He’s tremendous with the puck on the power play,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “He sees the ice. He’s a definitive power play quarterback. We’re looking forward to seeing that if we get a few power plays.” Boudreau alluded that Theodore could see time on Anaheim’s first power play unit.
In net for Anaheim is John Gibson. The 22-year-old has gone 5-4-2 with a 1.98 GAA and .923 SV% in his 12 appearances with the Ducks this season, including a pair of shutouts on Nov. 30 vs. Vancouver and Dec. 4 vs. San Jose. Since being recalled from San Diego on Nov. 24, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native ranks second among NHL goaltenders in GAA (minimum 10 games) and tied for eighth in shutouts.
What the Ducks are up against is a Flames team that’s won a franchise-best 11 consecutive games on home ice. Johnny Gaudreau enters the game coming off NHL First Star of the Week honors. The diminutive forward paced the league with five goals in two games, including a hat trick (the third of his career) in a 4-1 win over Winnipeg on Dec. 22. The 22-year-old leads the Flames and ranks tied for sixth in the NHL in goals (17) and points (39) in 35 games this season.
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf’s 44 points (14g/30a) lead active Anaheim skaters in career scoring against the Flames. Since returning from a four-game absence due to an appendectomy on Nov. 6, Getzlaf (2g/19a) co-leads the NHL in assists with Chicago's Patrick Kane and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson.
“Divisional games are vital,” said Boudreau. “If you look at the standings in the Pacific Division alone, the divisional games are going to be the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs.”