A big test awaits the Ducks tonight, as they close out their three-game homestand against the league-leading Nashville Predators at Honda Center. (7 p.m. PT, TV: FOX Sports West, Radio: AM 830).
Leading the league in wins (13) and standings points (26), the Predators (13-3-0) have gone 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and have yet to lose in any fashion on the road (8-0-0). Riding a five-game winning streak, the Predators enter the game with a +21 goal differential, also tops in the league.
As for the Ducks (7-8-3), tonight presents another chance to move in the right direction. The Ducks, as a whole, have played better over the last little while but have yet to string together consecutive wins since October 14-17. The Ducks have gone 2-6-2 over their past 10, including a 5-1 loss on Friday night against the Minnesota Wild.
"We know we have a good team coming in here," Ryan Kesler said to reporters yesterday. "They're proving they're at the top of their game right now. If you can't get up for a game like that, I don't know why you're still playing."
It's not all doom and gloom, however, as tonight the Ducks are expected to get Ondrej Kase into the lineup for the first time this season (barring any setbacks). The 23-year-old right wing set career highs last season in goals (20), assists (18), points (38), plus/minus (+18) and game-winning goals (5). Kase ranked tied for second on the team in goals and game-winning goals, and tied for third in plus/minus. He has yet to play this season due to a concussion suffered in the club's preseason finale on September 29 in LA.
Yesterday in practice, he skated on a line with Nick Ritchie and Kesler. Ritchie returned to the lineup on Friday after missing six consecutive games with an upper-body injury. Aside from Corey Perry (knee), who is still months away, the Ducks are almost at full health with the exception of Carter Rowney (upper body) and Max Comtois (lower body). Rowney has missed 13 consecutive games, but Comtois was assigned to San Diego (AHL) on a long-term injury conditioning loan and promptly scored less than three minutes into his Gulls debut on Saturday.
Tonight's contest opens a three-game season series between the Ducks and Preds, the first of two at Honda Center. Following tonight's game, these two clubs will meet again in 13 days at Bridgestone Arena in the opener of a five-game road trip for the Ducks. The season series will conclude in Anaheim on Tuesday, March 12. The Ducks have gone 38-24-8 all-time against the Preds, including a 25-7-3 mark at Honda Center. Anaheim has also gone 7-2-0 in its last nine home games vs. Nashville dating to Jan. 26, 2013, outscoring its Central Division foe 32-24. Ryan Getzlaf leads active Ducks in career scoring vs. Nashville with 42 points (12g/30a) in 37 career games.
The Preds are getting stellar contributions from everyone, and it begins from the net out. Pekka Rinne enters tonight's game with a 6-1-0 record, 1.55 goals-against average, .949 save percentage and two shutouts in eight games this season. The 36-year-old netminder ranks second in the NHL in GAA and third in save percentage, while his two shutouts place him in a tie for first. He has stopped 92 of the 94 shots he's faced in three starts since returning from Injured Reserve on October 31. Meanwhile, Juuse Saros is 7-2-0 with a 2.67 GAA and .909 SV% in nine games this season.
On the blueline, the Preds have recorded 48 points (12g/36a), the second-most points in the NHL. P.K. Subban leads the way with 12 points (2g/10a), while Roman Josi (5g/6a) and Mattias Ekholm (3g/8a) each have 11 points. Nashville's defense led the league in goals (55) and points (206) by blueliners last season.
Nashville's top line composed of center Ryan Johansen (17 points, 3g/14a), left wing Filip Forsberg (15 points, 10g/5a) and right wing Viktor Arvidsson (13 points, 8g/5a) has been unstoppable this season. Nicknamed the "JOFA" line, the trio ranks tied for fourth in 5-on-5 goals (12) among lines that have played at least 100 minutes together. They have also combined to post a +33 rating this season.
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