Could tonight’s matchup be a preview of what’s to come in June? Only time will tell, but for now, fans are in for a treat as the league-leading Ducks (43-14-6, 92 points) host the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins (41-17-4, 86 points) tonight at Honda Center.
For only the second time in his career, Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy will face the team that signed him to his first pro contract back in July 2008. Lovejoy appeared in 98 games as a member of the Penguins from 2008-13, earning 25 points (4g/21a) and 63 penalty minutes.
“I like a lot of people in that locker room,” he said. “But I don’t think anybody looks forward to playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. They’re a very good team for a reason. They can make even very good defensemen look very stupid.”
The Penguins will be out for blood tonight after giving up three unanswered goals in a 5-3 loss in San Jose last night, a game in which captain Sidney Crosby finished a career-worst minus-5.
“He’s going to come back with a response game, and so will the whole team,” said Lovejoy. “We’re going to take the brunt of it. But we’ve been a very good team all year. We need to be ready tonight.”
FRIENDS AND FOES
Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf and Crosby go way back, having been teammates on the international stage dating back to their World Junior Championship days with Team Canada. Now two-time Olympic gold medalists, Getzlaf reflects on the qualities Crosby brings on and off the ice.
“Sid’s a good guy and good player,” he said. “I’ve known him for a long time now. We enjoy when he’s around and the things he brings to the team.”
Getzlaf says facing Crosby doesn’t add any extra pressure on himself or the Ducks.
“It’s a matter of competing against one of the better players in the league, and one of the better teams in our league,” he said. “When they come to our building, the fans are excited to see him play. We’re excited for that challenge.”
Ducks rookie Rickard Rakell is expected to center a line with Teemu Selanne and Matt Beleskey tonight. Rakell, who was recalled yesterday from Norfolk of the American Hockey League, gives head coach Bruce Boudreau the opportunity to dress four true centers after Mathieu Perreault was placed on injured reserve.
“We only had three centers,” he said. “We were forcing Silvy [Jakob Silfverberg] as a center, and the center position is so vital. If you only have three centermen and you’re using wingers in there and one of those centers goes down in the middle of the game, you’re really behind the eight ball.
“We got away with it for two games, but we didn’t want to push our luck. Rakell’s done a really great job down in Norfolk. We think he’s going to be a really good player in the future. Now is a good time to bring him up.”
The 6-1, 192-pound center appeared in 43 games for Norfolk this season, collecting 37 points (14g/23a) with a +10 rating and 12 penalty minutes. At the time of his recall, Rakell co-led the Admirals in points, assists and plus/minus, ranked second in power-play goals (8) and tied for second in goals.
The 20-year-old has appeared in seven contests with Anaheim this season, earning one point (assist) with two penalty minutes.
“Just playing a couple game [with Anaheim] earlier this year and last [season], I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I’ve been around the team quite a bit. I feel comfortable being here.”
EXPECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
Kyle Palmieri-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon-Nick Bonino-Jakob Silfverberg
Daniel Winnik-Saku Koivu-Andrew Cogliano
Matt Beleskey-Rickard Rakell-Teemu Selanne
Cam Fowler-Ben Lovejoy
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Bryan Allen-Luca Sbisa
Anaheim and Pittsburgh conclude a two-game season series tonight at Honda Center. The Ducks own an all-time record of 10-13-2 against the Penguins (7-4-0 in Orange County). The Ducks have won two of the last three games, including a 3-2 victory in the Penguins’ last visit to Honda Center on Nov. 5, 2010. Teemu Selanne leads active Ducks scorers in career scoring vs. the Penguins, earning 34 points (13g/21a) with 14 penalty minutes in 22 games.