Better goaltending has anchored the Anaheim Ducks’ latest surge to the top of the NHL.
They’re hoping the improved play in net helps them avenge an ugly season-opening loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins when they meet again Friday night.
The Ducks (42-17-7) appear to have the Pacific Division all but wrapped up with a double-digit lead over second-place Vancouver and are making a push for home ice throughout the playoffs. Wednesday’s 3-1 win over East-leading Montreal was their fourth in a row and seventh in eight games.
John Gibson made 37 saves and has stopped 96 of 100 shots in three starts during his three-game winning streak. Frederik Andersen stopped 29 shots in Tuesday’s 4-1 win at Arizona.
Anaheim has held opponents to five goals in the four victories after previously allowing 2.73 per game, ranking 20th.
"That’s huge. Every time you have a goalie playing every night who gives you a chance to win," defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who scored his fourth goal during the Ducks’ 7-1-0 stretch, told the league’s official website. "Gibson kept us in it. He made some big saves, breakaway saves. We’re fortunate to have two big goaltenders that can do that."
Gibson faced 39 shots in a 6-4 road loss to the Penguins on Oct. 9 in his only start against them. Andersen has never faced Pittsburgh.
The Penguins (36-18-9) had also won four straight prior to a 3-1 loss at Colorado on Wednesday. Evgeni Malkin scored his sixth goal in six games while Sidney Crosby’s point streak ended at four.
Pittsburgh outshot the Avalanche 24-13 over the final two periods after putting only five on net in the first 20 minutes.
"We didn’t make things as difficult as we should, but when we did get some good chances (Semyon Varlamov) made some key saves," Crosby told the league’s official website. "We would have liked to put more pressure on him, but he did make some good saves when he needed to."
The Ducks will match up against their former defenseman Ben Lovejoy, whom they traded to Pittsburgh on Monday for Simon Despres. Despres has one assist in two games for Anaheim while Lovejoy debuted against Colorado along with Ian Cole, whom the Penguins acquired from St. Louis.
They combined for seven hits with Lovejoy playing alongside Derrick Pouliot while Cole was paired with Rob Scuderi.
"They both complemented their partners and read the game properly," assistant coach Gary Agnew told the team’s official website. "It was a tough night for them to come in like that. I thought both Cole and Lovejoy did a good job."
Anaheim’s power play has gone cold with one goal over the last 11 games. The club is drawing 1.6 chances per game in that span compared to 3.3 previously.
Corey Perry has gone a career-worst 43 straight games without a goal on the advantage. Two of his three goals in the season’s first matchup came on the power play, however, and he has 10 goals and three assists in 10 career meetings.
The Ducks are trying to avoid going without a power-play goal in seven straight home games for the first time since a 10-game drought from Feb. 17-March 16, 2003.
Pittsburgh, which has won three in a row in the series, has given up a power-play goal in its last three games.
Crosby has five goals and three assists in his last five versus Anaheim.