After a four-day break, the Ducks (2-3-1, 5 points) are back in action tonight as they host the visiting Montreal Canadiens (1-5-1, 3 points) at Honda Center (7 p.m. PT, TV: Prime Ticket, Radio: AM 830). This is the finale of a two-game homestand for Anaheim, which began last Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Ducks are in the midst of playing seven consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents, and it continues next week with a four-game road trip against Philadelphia, Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina. Anaheim went 16-10-6 against Eastern Conference foes last season, including a 9-4-3 record vs. the Atlantic Division and a 7-6-3 mark vs. the Metropolitan Division.
Tonight's contest opens a two-game season series between the Ducks and Habs, which concludes on Saturday, February 3 at Bell Centre. For what it's worth, the Ducks have won three consecutive home games against the Canadiens, a franchise first that dates to March 4, 2015. Quebec native Antoine Vermette has 13 points (10g/3a) in 43 career games against the Canadiens, tops among active Ducks.
Injuries have been a focal point for the Ducks thus far, but good news could be on the horizon. Defenseman Hampus Lindholm appears close to making his season debut after underdoing shoulder surgery in late May.
"I feel really close," he said yesterday. "It's just about the little things like being comfortable battling and feeling strong in all positions. When you get close like this, you want to play games. You don't want to be skating around. It's going to be fun when I finally get out there."
Lindholm is one of two key defensemen (also Sami Vatanen) who has yet to appear in a game this season. With that being said, it's expected the Ducks will once again be without the services of captain Ryan Getzlaf and forward Patrick Eaves, who are both dealing with lower-body injuries. Ondrej Kase could be an option tonight after missing the past three games with an upper-body injury. Goaltender John Gibson figures to make his seventh consecutive start tonight, but veteran netminder Ryan Miller could serve as the backup. Miller (upper-body injury) has yet to dress in a game this season, but has practiced regularly with the team over the past week.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, have been on a downward spiral since their season-opening 3-2 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres. Montreal enters tonight's game with six consecutive losses (five in regulation), it's most recent being a 5-1 defeat against the LA Kings on Wednesday. The Canadiens have been outscored 10-3 in their past two games, including a 5-2 loss at San Jose on Tuesday, and come into tonight's game averaging 1.43 goals per game, the lowest in the NHL. (The Ducks are 30th, averaging two goals per game).
Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty has gone six games without a goal and didn't hold back in his critique of his own play, and the challenges of leading his team when his performance has slipped. "How am I going to go tell my teammates that we got to be better when I'm the worst one on the ice," he said, in a story published by the Montreal Gazette. "That's what keeps you up at night ... that's what keeps me up at night. Trust me, if you guys think I don't care you got it all wrong. If anything, I think too much and I care too much."