After a break that seemingly felt like forever, the Ducks (31-21-12, 74 points) return to action tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets (32-27-5, 69 points) at Honda Center. (7 p.m., TV: FOX Sports West, Radio: AM 830).
This is the second contest of a four-game homestand for Anaheim, which has spent the better part of the past two months on the road. Nevertheless, the Ducks come in with points in five of their last six games (4-1-1), eight of 10 (6-2-2) and 21 of their last 29 overall (17-8-4). At home, the Ducks have gone 8-1-2 over their last 11 and 10-2-3 in their last 15. Eight of the club's 14 games this month will be played at Honda Center, including upcoming matchups against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (1 p.m. PT) and Washington Capitals on Tuesday (7 p.m. PT).
While the Ducks were off, the rest of the Western Conference (especially those in the hunt for a playoff spot) caught up with games in hand. But despite the lengthy break, the Ducks enter tonight's contest in the second wild card spot. With 74 points, the Ducks sit three points behind third-place LA and five back of second-place San Jose in the Pacific Division. They are three back of Dallas (first wild card), tied in points with St. Louis and one up on Colorado and Calgary. The Ducks have one game in hand on San Jose, LA, Calgary and St. Louis, and have played the same amount of games as Dallas.
No longer on injured reserve, John Gibson could get the start tonight against Columbus. Gibson has not played since February 19 at Vegas and has missed the past three games. Reto Berra served as a backup to Ryan Miller while Gibson was out, but he was reassigned to San Diego on Tuesday.
Will tonight mark the debuts for Jason Chimera and/or Chris Kelly? The 38-year-old Chimera was acquired on Monday from the New York Islanders in exchange for left wing Chris Wagner, while Kelly was signed to a one-year contract shortly after he won bronze with Team Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Chimera has 11 points (2g/9a) in 58 games this season, but is coming off consecutive 20-goal seasons with the Islanders. Kelly, 37, served as captain for Team Canada and finished with three points (2g/1a) and a +2 rating in six games. He netted two goals, including the game winner, in the Bronze Medal match against the Czech Republic. Kelly has played 13 NHL seasons with Ottawa and Boston and won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011.
Chimera and Kelly rotated through line rushes with Derek Grant, Antoine Vermette and J.T. Brown yesterday.
This is the second game of a three-game California swing for the Blue Jackets, who are coming off a 5-2 loss last night in LA. The Blue Jackets let a two-goal lead in the first period slip away in the setback - a costly defeat considering they are holding onto the second wild card spot in the East. Columbus, who has played 64 games, enters tonight's matchup with a two-point lead on Carolina and a three-point cushion on Florida, though the Panthers have three - yes, three - games in hand.
The Ducks will face Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, as noted by the Blue Jackets' official website. The veteran netminder made six consecutive starts before getting the night off yesterday (Joonas Korpisalo), going 3-2-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .918 save percentage over that span. Thomas Vanek made his Blue Jackets debut last night after the club acquired him at the deadline from Vancouver, while Ian Cole, acquired from Ottawa on February 26, has played twice.
Artemi Panarin is riding a six-game point streak (3g/4a) and has 11 points (5g/6a) in his past 11 games. Meanwhile, Cam Atkinson has a three-game point streak, earning five points (3g/2a) over that span.
This concludes the two-game season series between the Ducks and Blue Jackets, which opened with a 4-2 Columbus victory on December 1 at Nationwide Arena. The Ducks have posted an all-time record of 26-21-9 vs. the Blue Jackets, including a 14-9-5 mark at Honda Center. Adam Henrique made his Ducks debut in the game against Columbus and went on to post a five-game point streak - the second-longest point streak to start a Ducks career. Ryan Getzlaf leads the Ducks and ranks tied for ninth among active NHL scorers with 42 points (12g/30a) in 36 games against the Blue Jackets.