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Preview: Ducks Close Out Road Trip in Buffalo

by Kyle Shohara @kyleshohara /

The Ducks (25-19-10, 60 points) will look to close out their five-game road trip with a win this evening against the Buffalo Sabres (14-29-9, 37 points) at KeyBank Center. This closes out the club's eighth set of back-to-backs this season and the first since December 18-19.

Anaheim is coming off a barn-burning 7-4 defeat last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in a contest that saw Corey Perry tie his career high for assists in a game (4). But the team's overall defensive play was again an issue, allowing the Leafs to score six times (seven with an empty net). The Ducks have allowed 12 goals over the past two games.

Tonight's game becomes almost a must-win for the Ducks not only to salvage a road trip that began in promising fashion with a 3-1 victory over the red-hot Boston Bruins on January 30, but also to keep them in the race for a playoff spot. Although the Ducks are still within a point of third place in the Pacific Division and the second wild card spot, they have played more games than every team in the hunt except for Dallas, which has also played 54 games. After losses to the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, two teams near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, they will need to find a way to come out of KeyBank Center with two points against the 30th-ranked Sabres.

With goaltender John Gibson on injured reserve, the Ducks will roll with one of Ryan Miller or Reto Berra tonight. Gibson was injured last Thursday in Ottawa, but skated yesterday - his first on-ice work with the team since the injury. Berra stopped 20 of 22 shots in a relief appearance in the loss to Montreal on Saturday.

Rickard Rakell enters tonight's game on a career-tying four-game assist streak (eight points, 3g/5a) and Ryan Getzlaf comes in with 17 points (5g/12a) over his last 17 games. Perry has eight goals, 11 points and a +9 rating in his last nine games vs. Buffalo.

The Ducks didn't fare well in the series opener against the Sabres, a 3-1 loss at Honda Center back on October 15. Anaheim has gone 14-16-5 all-time against Buffalo, including a 6-6-4 mark on the road. Antoine Vermette leads active Ducks with 21 points (9g/12a) in 45 career games against the Sabres.

Buffalo has lost three in a row, all at home, after going 3-0 on a Western Canadian swing. Overall, the Sabres have gone 6-15-3 at home (including the Winter Classic) and have scored three goals total over their last three games. The Sabres, who are stuck at 999 all-time regular season home wins, will close out their five-game homestand on Thursday against the New York Islanders.

For what it's worth, the Sabres have won five straight games against Pacific Division opponents. Goaltenders Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson have combined to stop 156 of the 161 shots (.969 save percentage) they have faced at even strength in the last six games. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen enters tonight's game with 13 points (3g/10a) in his last 15 games, right wing Kyle Okposo has 11 points (3g/8a) in his last 10 and center Ryan O'Reilly has 10 points (5g/5a) in his last 11.

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