By Kyle Shohara
After sweeping a recent three-game homestand and winners of four in a row and seven of their past 10, the Ducks have flown east to open a five-game road trip spanning nine days. They kick off this arduous journey tonight at the World’s Most Famous Arena (Madison Square Garden) against the high-flying New York Rangers.
In this bout between two of the NHL’s heavyweights, the Western Conference-leading Ducks (46-20-7, 99 points) will look to become the first club to reach the 100-point mark this season, while the Rangers (45-18-7, 97 points), leaders of the Metropolitan Division, aim to place themselves in a tie with the Montreal Canadiens (99 points) for first overall in the Eastern Conference and overall standings.
Frederik Andersen will likely make his second consecutive start for the Ducks, as indicated by the morning skate. Andersen made 22 saves for his 31st victory of the season on Friday vs. Colorado, and improved to 51-15-5 in 71 career decisions, becoming the third-fastest goaltender in NHL history to reach 51 career wins (Bill Durnan-1944 & Frank Brimsek-1940). Prior to Friday’s start, Andersen hadn’t played since March 9 at Vancouver. It’s all part of a goaltending plan set in place by Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, who earlier this month said he’d like to alternate Andersen and John Gibson at least until April. Gibson started four in a row prior to Andersen getting the nod vs. the Avalanche.
It also appears defenseman Clayton Stoner will draw back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch two nights ago. The 30-year-old blueliner has seven points (1g/6a) in 63 games for the Ducks this season, and took line rushes with his familiar partner, Sami Vatanen. That means Simon Despres is likely the odd man out tonight against the Rangers, but Boudreau says the 23-year-old d-man should draw back in on Tuesday at Columbus. When asked about his decision to dress Stoner and sit Despres, Boudreau said it’s about keeping Stoner involved. Matt Beleskey is also expected to be scratched in favor of Emerson Etem.
Earlier this season the Ducks got a taste of the Rangers’ dynamic offense, when New York skated to a 4-1 victory on Jan. 7 at Honda Center. It was an eye opener for the Ducks, who often found themselves scrambling in the defensive zone. Consider it a lesson learned.
“They were good,” Boudreau said. “I think they came a couple days early and remembered that we beat them, 6-0, in our building the year before. We were quite frankly taken aback by how fast they were and how quick they played. That’s our last image of those guys. It’s a pretty good image.”
Even without the services of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who hasn’t played since Feb. 2 (neck injury), the Rangers remain one of the stingiest teams in the league. New York has allowed two goals or fewer in nine consecutive games and in 38 of 70 games in 2014-15. The Rangers have posted a 34-2-2 record when allowing two or fewer goals in a contest this season.
Cam Talbot is expected to start tonight after earning his 18th victory of the season last night at Carolina. Originally signed by the Rangers on March 30, 2010 as an undrafted free agent, Talbot has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his last eight appearances. The 27-year-old has posted a 5-1-0 record, along with a 0.99 GAA, a .968 SV%, and 1 SO in his last six appearances, and has also posted a 6-1-1 record, along with a 1.11 GAA, a .963 SV%, and 1 SO in his last eight games.
“They don't allow anybody to score,” said Boudreau. “That's not right.”LINE COMBINATIONS
Patrick Maroon-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Emerson Etem-Ryan Kesler-Kyle Palmieri
Andrew Cogliano-Nate Thompson-Jakob Silfverberg
Tomas Fleischmann-Rickard Rakell-Jiri Sekac
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Cam Fowler-James Wisniewski
Clayton Stoner-Sami Vatanen