Could tonight mark the return of Sami Vatanen? Nothing concrete was confirmed from Vatanen himself or from his head coach earlier today, but it appears he's close. Good timing, too.
One thing is certain, rugged defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who hadn't missed a game all season (regular season and playoffs), will not play tonight, according to Randy Carlyle. Bieksa suffered a lower-body injury in Game 1 on Wednesday night after he collided with d-partner Shea Theodore in the second period. After getting up under his own power, Bieksa headed to the dressing room, but he did return to take two more shifts in the second period.
Vatanen gives Anaheim another offensive weapon on the blueline, especially on the power play. Being able to use him and rookie Brandon Montour on separate power-play units allows for options and flexibility. Though his return appears imminent, Vatanen reiterates the importance of staying the course.
"I'm really close, so I'm happy about that," he told reporters today. "There is a fine line. When can you help the team win? If you're not ready to help the team win, I don't think you should play."
The skate today was, like most game days, an optional, so line combinations remain uncertain. Forward lines aren't likely to change all that much, though maybe we'll see Rickard Rakell placed on the top line alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Patrick Eaves, and Nick Ritchie on the third line with Nate Thompson and Corey Perry.
As for d-pairings, it remains to be seen if Carlyle wants to split up his top four of Cam Fowler-Brandon Montour and Hampus Lindholm-Josh Manson regardless of whether or not Vatanen plays. Theodore has been paired with Bieksa through five games of the playoffs, but could slot next to Vatanen or Korbinian Holzer. On the other hand, perhaps we'll see Theodore and Montour together, a familiar duo that anchored San Diego's top power-play unit earlier this season.
Expect to see John Gibson in net against Edmonton's Cam Talbot. Like the Ducks, the Oilers went with an optional skate this morning at Honda Center.
Discipline was a word used often inside the Ducks locker room over the last two days, and with good reason. A team that prides itself on staying disciplined gave the Oilers five power plays in Game 1 and got burned on two of them. Anaheim's penalty kill - superb in the regular season - has dipped dramatically since the postseason began. They enter tonight's game with the worst PK% in the playoffs (61.9%) and have given up eight power-play goals against in five games.
"If they're going to take liberties on some of our skilled guys, we have to continue to score on the power play," Oilers forward Mark Letestu told reporters today. "Hopefully it backs them off of some of our skilled guys and makes them think twice about taking penalties. But if we're going 0-for-5 or 0-for-6 night after night with no repercussions, they're going to continue taking liberties. As a power play, we have to step up for the team." Letestu scored both of Edmonton's power-play goals in Game 1.
Is it possible that a loss in the playoffs is a good thing for a team? Maybe not exactly, but Theodore says he and his teammates are raring to go after Wednesday's loss.
"To lose that first game, we have a little bit more fire in our bellies," he said. "It's definitely going to help us out tonight. We're ready. We've regrouped."
Potential Line Combinations
Video: The Ducks preview Game 2 against the Edmonton Oilers