The sound you hear in the distance is thunder, and it's getting closer.
Tonight, the Ducks (7-6-3, 17 points) host the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning (13-2-2, 28 points) in the third game of a five-game homestand at Honda Center. (5 p.m. PT, TV: Prime Ticket, Radio: AM 830). Anaheim comes into tonight's game having earned four of a possible six points in the past three games, including a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. A power play that has struggled throughout the season picked a good time to get hot, as the Ducks scored three times with the man advantage for the first time since Dec. 11, 2016 vs. Ottawa.
Their opponent tonight leads the league in nearly every offensive category and hasn't just squeaked by teams as of late, they've blown them out. Winners of three in a row, the Lightning conclude its three-game California swing tonight after outscoring the San Jose Sharks and LA Kings by combined total of 10-3. Tampa Bay opened the road trip with a 5-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday in a game that saw the club score five unanswered times, including three goals in the second period. The following night, the Lightning erupted for four goals in a span of 2:02 in the first period en route to a 5-2 win over the Kings. Tampa Bay enters tonight's game with a five-game road winning streak and has picked up points in seven consecutive road contests - the third-longest road point streak in franchise history.
The Lightning have lost in regulation only twice this season, once at home (7-1-1) and once on the road (6-1-1). Ironically, the last team to upend the Lightning after 60 minutes of play? The Ducks.
"We got handed a thorough beating in Florida two nights before," Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle said, in reference to the 8-3 loss against the Panthers. "When we got to Tampa, we had our tail between our legs and said we can't afford to play that way. Our start has to be one we're going to be proud of from a workmanlike attitude. That's going to have to continue. In the game, we played more of a tenacious forechecking game."
These two clubs met on October 28 at Amalie Arena, just two days after the aforementioned loss to the Panthers. At the time, the Lightning established a new franchise record for consecutive home victories to start a season (six) - the longest since a franchise-best nine in a row from Jan. 2-Feb. 12, 2016. Team captain Steven Stamkos and linemate Nikita Kucherov had matching 11-game season-opening point streaks, both franchise records. Those streaks ended when the Ducks came away with a 4-1 victory on a three-assist performance from Ryan Getzlaf and a two-goal effort from Rickard Rakell. Since then, Stamkos and Kucherov have had points in four of the five games that followed. (They were both held off the score sheet in a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on November 2). Nevertheless, Stamkos (30 points, 8g/22a) and Kucherov (29 points, 16g/13a) rank first and second in the NHL in scoring. Kucherov enters tonight's game with three points in each of his last two games and has eight points combined (3g/5a) over his last three. The 24-year-old right wing has points in 15 of 17 games and already has 11 multi-point performances this season.
"We played a good portion of the game in their zone," Carlyle said, on the series opener in Tampa Bay. "That's probably the best way to defend [Stamkos and Kucherov], which is to force them to play in the defensive zone. If they're 200 feet away from your net, I don't see many of them making a contribution that way."
Tampa Bay is much more than a two-headed snake, however. With depth throughout the lineup and a willingness to roll seven defensemen on any given night, the Lightning can attack at all angles. They have nine players with 10 points or more, including rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (12 points, 4g/8a). Andrei Vasilevskiy leads all NHL goaltenders in wins (12) and ranks tied for seventh in the NHL in save percentage (.928). Since Feb. 27, 2017, Vasilevskiy is 24-5-3 over his last 32 starts, leading all goaltenders in wins over that time frame.
John Gibson could get the start for Anaheim after missing one game due to an upper-body injury. Gibson, who has practiced the past two days, comes in with a 5-5-1 mark, 2.97 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 13 games. If Gibson gets the start, Reto Berra is expected to serve as the backup. Ryan Miller has not practiced with the team since he left the game on November 9 with an injury.
Projected Line Combinations