By Kyle Shohara
The Ducks haven’t exactly gotten off to the start they envisioned, but tonight they have a chance to start fresh against the Pacific Division-rival Arizona Coyotes at Honda Center.
It’s the second of a four-game homestand for Anaheim, with upcoming games on Friday vs. Colorado and Sunday vs. Minnesota. Fans heading to the game or tuning in on TV or radio will have an extra half hour to get settled in, as tonight’s start time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PT.
Although it’s early, Anaheim’s opponent is doing its best to silence the pundits who predicted the club would finish at – or near – the bottom of the standings this season. The Coyotes are 2-0-0 to start the year, with victories at Los Angeles and at home vs. Pittsburgh.
They put up four goals on Jonathan Quick and the Kings in the season opener (LA, by the way, is 0-3-0) and limited the Penguins to a single goal (Phil Kessel, unassisted). Pacing the Coyotes in scoring through two games are Martin Hanzal (3a) and Tobias Reider (2g/1a), while rookies Anthony Duclair and Max Domi have two points apiece. Domi scored his first career NHL goal at Staples Center on October 9.
This is a club head coach Bruce Boudreau says has an “’Us against the world’ mentality.”
“They’ve rallied around that point,” said Boudreau. “They’re young and hungry. I’ve watched their two games and they looked really good. They look fast. Mike Smith looks like Mike Smith again. When that happens, they’re a very difficult team.”
Getting the start for the Ducks tonight is veteran goaltender Anton Khudobin. The 29-year-old’s stellar work in the preseason earned him a start this early in the season, Boudreau said. “He was our best goalie in preseason, so now we’re giving him the opportunity. If he hadn’t played well, we probably would’ve gone with Freddie [Andersen].”
Anaheim is the fourth destination for Khudobin in his seven-year NHL career. He most recently played with the Carolina Hurricanes from 2013-15. Khudobin was drafted in the seventh round (206th overall) by Minnesota in the 2004 NHL Draft, and went on to appear in six games with the Wild over two seasons (2009-11) before joining the Bruins for two years (2011-13) for a 15-game stint in Boston.
“It’s always exciting when you’re wearing a new jersey,” Khudobin said. “We’re also looking for the first win of the season, so that’s exciting, too. Right now is the real deal.”
Scoring (or lack thereof) has been an issue through the first two games of the season. After getting shutout in San Jose in the season opener, the Ducks only managed a single goal (Sami Vatanen) in a 2-1 shootout loss vs. the Vancouver Canucks two nights ago. The Ducks went 0-for-2 on the power play against the Canucks, including a 4-on-3 man advantage in overtime.
Hampus Lindholm says if the Ducks put on their work boots in front of the opposing goaltender, good things are in store.
“A goalie can’t save what he can’t see,” said Lindholm. “We need guys getting to the net. Sooner or later, we’ll break him down and get a goal. It’s about getting dirty goals, getting pucks to the net and drawing penalties. Our defense needs to be more active. We can do a better job keeping pucks alive and putting pressure on them for minutes at a time.”