With No. 1 goaltender John Gibson still on the mend with a lower-body injury, the Ducks are likely going with a former Maple Leaf tonight in the club's first game back from its bye week. Jonathan Bernier brings a 9-6-2 record into tonight's contest against a former Duck - though not the one you'd expect. Reports suggest backup Curtis McElhinney will get the start for Toronto after former Anaheim netminder Frederik Andersen played last night in LA.
To go along with Bernier's record is a 2.94 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 24 appearances this season, which also includes a shutout. The 28-year-old stopped 29 of 32 shots last Saturday in LA (4-1 loss). Backing him up will be Jhonas Enroth, who was lights out with San Diego at the time of his recall (10-2-0 with two shutouts, a 1.42 GAA and .944 SV% in 12 games).
With the Western Conference standings growing tighter by the day, the Ducks suddenly find themselves in third place in the Pacific Division - two points behind second-place Edmonton and only two points up on fourth-place Calgary. Their schedule does them no favors. Starting tonight, Anaheim will play 14 games in a 28-day stretch (nine home games and five road contests) that features two sets of back-to-back games.
The Ducks still have two games against Chicago, St. Louis, Edmonton and Calgary, in addition to hosting the powerhouse Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. They also have two more games against Winnipeg, which currently sits six points out of the second wild card spot (LA). Anaheim's final regular-season game against LA is shaping up to be one with plenty on the line.
"We're building for the run now," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. "It starts tonight. We need to get back into the swing of things and get going in the right direction. We don't want to put too much weight on one or two games, but we need to continue getting better and pushing to get our wins down the stretch."
Defenseman Kevin Bieksa says the five-day NHL-mandated bye week was needed after grinding through the first 63 games of the season, which featured two separate six-game road trips.
"When you play a lot of hockey, mentally you get exhausted," he said. "The mental rest you get for that week is going to be beneficial down the stretch. We'll get better as [tonight's] game goes on. We should be fresh and ready to compete. It'll be intense and emotional. It's no secret our team plays better in those games."
The Maple Leafs are still very much alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race, tied with the New York Islanders for the second wild card spot. They added veterans Brian Boyle and Eric Fehr before the March 1 trade deadline passed and will lean on rookies Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander to continue producing offense as they make a push for just their second playoff appearance in the last 12 years.
Matthews enters tonight's game in a three-way tie for second place among the league's goal-scoring leaders (31, also WPG rookie Patrik Laine and MTL's Max Pacioretty). After going first and second overall, respectively, in the 2016 NHL Draft, Matthews and Laine became the first pair of top-two picks from an NHL Draft to each record 30 goals the following season.
Matthews, 19, made his NHL debut on October 12 and promptly scored four goals in that game (an NHL record for a debut). He's was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week for the week ending October 16 and the NHL's First Star of the Week for the week ending January 1. Furthermore, the Scottsdale, Arizona native was named the league's Rookie of the Month for December after posting 12 points (8g/4a) in 12 games.
"He's got a humongous amount of strength for a young man," said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle, on the 6-3, 216-pound Matthews. "He can beat you with his skill or with his size. Tremendous hockey sense. He's a great young player."
Potential Line Combinations
Video: The Ducks preview their matchup with Toronto