The Anaheim Ducks have regained first place in the Pacific Division, and tracking down the top spot in the Western Conference as well as a run at the Presidents’ Trophy remain realistic goals.
Entering a three-game homestand against three of the West’s four worst teams, they have an excellent opportunity to begin piling on more points Monday night against the struggling Winnipeg Jets.
Anaheim completed a three-game trip against Pacific foes with Saturday’s 5-1 victory in Vancouver, giving it seven points in its past four games. The Ducks (48-18-8) play five of their last eight on home ice and now lead San Jose by a point with two games in hand.
"We’ve been really good at home, and we’ve been good on the road," forward Matt Beleskey told the team’s official website. "It’s just a good year for our team. It’s a great group. I’ve been saying it all year. It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever played with. It’s fun. We’re just getting ready for the ride now."
Corey Perry and Saku Koivu each had a goal and an assist while Mathieu Perreault extended his point streak to eight games with a goal.
Backup Frederik Andersen made 31 saves to improve to 17-5-0 in his rookie season.
"We not only want to get first place, we want to play as good as we can heading into the playoffs," said Andersen, whose team trails St. Louis atop the West by three points. "Every time you go on the ice you want to prove you can play."
Andersen also saw time against Winnipeg on Jan. 21 in relief of Jonas Hiller, who allowed three goals on 11 shots in the 3-2 home loss. Hiller fell to 0-2-1 with a 3.46 goals-against average against the Winnipeg franchise as the Jets won for the fifth time in the last six meetings.
Things haven’t gone as well lately for the Jets (33-33-9), who are 3-7-3 in their last 13 games as their playoff chances dwindle to mere desperation after Saturday’s 4-2 defeat in Los Angeles. They’re now nine points back in the West wild-card race with seven games to play.
Winnipeg conceded three first-period goals before a third-period comeback attempt fell short with goals from Matt Halischuk and Blake Wheeler.
"We got taught a real good lesson in the first period about being ready to play a hard game," coach Paul Maurice said. "We were just giving up so much ice and backing up. The last two periods, we were ready to play. There’s a learning lesson for some."
The poor first period was enough for Maurice to bench goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who allowed the three goals on 16 shots and fell to 0-3-2 with a 4.21 GAA in his past six starts, but the coach spread the blame further than his goaltenders.
"I’m not saying they weren’t responsible for the pucks," Maurice told the team’s official website. "They were as good as we were the rest of the hockey (game). We’re not sitting there saying ‘We need some saves to get us going.’ Shame on us. It’s a 20-man group out there."
Wheeler scored for a second straight game and has 12 points in his last eight while Bryan Little added an assist and has six points on a five-game point streak.
Anaheim forward Patrick Maroon has six points in four games while defenseman Sami Vatanen has five points on a four-game streak.