By Kyle Shohara
With one final game before the mandated Christmas break, the Ducks have one chance to end their otherwise disappointing road trip on a high note. Inconsistency has plagued them the entire season, and it’s carried into this current four-game stretch that has the Ducks in a loss-win-loss pattern through the first three games against the Sabres, Devils and Islanders, respectively.
The Ducks opted again to forgo a pregame skate this morning, so line combinations and a starting goaltender remain to be seen. What you can expect, however, is the return of Nate Thompson, who finished out his three-game suspension for an illegal hit to Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk last Friday. Thompson had two assists in four games this season after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
“Well, I guess I already had some familiarity sitting out watching games before,” Thompson said. “It's tough whenever you’re sitting out watching games and not able to help your team in stretches. It's frustrating. I'll be excited to get going tonight and getting back into the lineup.
"I hope to bring energy and enthusiasm on the bench. Play hard and finish checks. Just play my style of game and have fun with it."
Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau was terse in his postgame comments following the team’s 5-2 defeat last night against the Islanders.
“To end this, we need consistency,” he said. “We play a good game, then a bad game. We're not forming good habits on a continual basis. We had a lot of errors, and when we have them, they end up in our net.”
One error in particular was off the stick of the usually steady Hampus Lindholm, who sent a backhand clearing attempt up the middle, which was picked off in the slot and gave the Islanders a two-goal lead with 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
The Ducks will also need to put forth a consistent 60-minute effort – something they’ve preached the entire season. They were close to it in Saturday’s 2-1 victory against the Devils, and it showed. A strong first half of the first period last night had the Ducks all over the Islanders, and the team was rewarded with a goal six minutes into the game. But again, they let off the gas midway through the first, which allowed the Isles to score three unanswered goals. Keep in mind New York entered the game on a three-game losing streak and had only scored twice over that span.
“We could do much better than that,” said Sami Vatanen. “We played good for the first 10 minutes of the first period, and then, in the second period, I don’t know what happened. We just need to move our legs.”
Much like the Islanders, the Rangers come into the tonight’s contest riding a three-game losing streak. The Blueshirts have been outscored 17-7 in those games, which included a 7-3 blowout two nights ago on home ice against the Washington Capitals. But as we’ve seen this season, losing streaks from the opposition mean little if the Ducks can’t put forth a consistent showing.
"Well to me, I always look at things like the next level and to getting into the 30-point brigade because then every team in your division doesn't look as far ahead of you,” said Boudreau. “To me, this is a game of the upmost importance here. It's an important game for us."
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Carl Hagelin, who played parts of four seasons in the Big Apple (2011-2015). Hagelin, who was drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round (168th overall) of the 2007 NHL Draft, went on to record 58 goals and 130 points with a +57 rating in 266 regular season games with New York. Hagelin was traded in June to Anaheim, along with second-round (59th overall) and sixth-round (179th overall) selections in the 2015 NHL Draft, for left wing Emerson Etem and a second-round (41st overall) pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Still in search of his first goal of the season, Etem has three assists in 16 games with the Rangers this season.
Earlier today, Hagelin shared his thoughts on returning to The Garden.
“Excitement. A little bit of nervousness,” he said. “I think it’ll be a fun game. The focus is on playing the best we can play, myself included. We need a win. That's where my focus is.”