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With Preseason Complete, Focus Now Shifts to Opening Night

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

By Adam Brady

With a seven-game preseason in their rearview mirrors, the Ducks focus now turns to the highly anticipated start of the regular season. Late-game heroics from Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry (who potted the OT winner) gave the Ducks a 2-1 overtime victory over the Sharks to snap a four-game losing streak and give the Ducks a final preseason record of 3-3-1.

That means very little for a team whose focus now turns toward the 82-game schedule, which starts Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

“Preseason is always tough,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who begins his 10th NHL season this week.  “It’s a combination of different things when you’re getting ready for the season, but I thought we did a good job this year running practices the way we should, and the team looks ready to go.”

Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen made his case to be the team’s No. 1 goalie to start the season with a solid performance Saturday night in which he stopped 25 of 26 shots. Last year at this time he was the third goalie behind veterans Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth, but with the Ducks letting Hiller go via free agency, it’s now a battle for the crease between Andersen and fellow youngster John Gibson.

“We’re all excited to get started again and get going with the new season,” Andersen said today. “But these are the steps you have to take to come together as a group and learn about each other better. You clean up some mistakes during the preseason that you’ll benefit from during the regular season. It’s been good so far. I think we’ve developed as a group.”

The Ducks practice tomorrow in Anaheim before taking off for the Steel City, where they will have another workout before Thursday night’s opener. That’s time for the Ducks to tighten things up, Getzlaf says. “We’ve got to make sure our systems are down pat. We know there’s a learning curve, and we have some new bodies around. We’ve got to work hard to prepare for Thursday.”

It’s certainly more comfortable playing at home, but opening the season with a four-game trip gives the team a good early opportunity to bond. “We get to go and have some team dinners and those kinds of things. Those are important, especially when you bring in new guys,” Getzlaf said. “A lot of them don’t know each other, so it’s good to get on the road and have those times together.”

Added Andersen, “Last year we had a pretty big road trip the beginning of the year, and it was good for the team. You get to know each other a little bit more, go out for dinner and stuff like that. That’s going to be great. We have a good week here on the road, and hopefully we can bring some points back home.”

“Today was a positive day,” Fowler said. “To be able to get back on the ice, move around and feel pretty much pain-free is a good sign. “Anytime you even miss a couple practices or a game here and there, you hope it doesn’t drag on, and you want to get back in the lineup as soon as you can.”
Cam Fowler skated today for the first time since suffering a lower body injury during practice last Thursday after losing an edge and needing help leaving the ice.

The injury kept Fowler out of the final preseason game last Saturday night, but Fowler was optimistic after today’s session.

“Today was a positive day,” said the 22-year-old blueliner. “To be able to get back on the ice, move around and feel pretty much pain-free is a good sign. “Anytime you even miss a couple practices or a game here and there, you hope it doesn’t drag on, and you want to get back in the lineup as soon as you can.”

Yet Fowler’s status for Thursday night’s season-opener in Pittsburgh has not been determined. “He skated pretty well today and felt very good,” said Boudreau, “so we’ll just take him day to day and see how it goes.”

Fowler who missed 12 games last year due to injury, admitted he was initially scared by this one, but ultimately was reassured it wasn’t serious. “When you feel something that’s uncomfortable, you obviously get a little frightened by it. It’s not a great feeling, especially when it happens in practice,” Fowler said. “It’s a tough thing to deal with, but after the initial point when it happened, I started to feel okay and knew it wasn’t going to be something that would keep me out long term. That helped me mentally prepare for everything.”

Things weren’t quite as optimistic for wingers Dany Heatley and Kyle Palmieri, neither of whom skated today. Heatley has been out since September 28 with a groin injury, while Palmieri didn’t play the entire preseason with an ankle ailment. Boudreau said he thought Fowler and Heatley would be on the season-opening road trip, but wasn’t sure about Palmieri.

“Palmieri, he’s just not ready,” Boudreau said. “I don’t know if he had a setback, but he’s just not ready. And again, you just don’t want to push that.”

On Heatley’s impending return, Boudreau said, “I leave that pretty well up to the trainer, and I know Dany is chomping at the bit to do that. Hopefully it’s sooner than later.”

With the retirement of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu came the need for the Ducks to not only make up for the veteran leadership voids left by their departures, but also to fill the alternate captain positions the two Finns once held. Boudreau has yet to announce the players that will wear the “A”s – while Getzlaf will certain keep the captain’s “C” – but said that will be coming soon.

“Quite frankly, we’ve talked about it as coaches and with management, and it will probably be announced either prior to Thursday’s game or you’ll see it in Thursday’s game,” Boudreau said. “I think it’s a guy people look up to, who puts the team before themselves, they’re hard workers and knowing if you’re not having success, they’re looking for other guys to have success. So, we’ll see who it is soon.”

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