Ducks brace for high-scoring Maple Leafs
Look for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple to stick with their strengths Friday night at Honda Center.
The Ducks (8-9-3) have been one of the toughest teams to score against in recent seasons, while the Maple Leafs (13-6-0) have featured one of the top-scoring offenses.
Anaheim had the third-lowest goals-against average in the NHL last season at 2.55, but the Maple Leafs combined for 10 goals in a two-game sweep of the Ducks. Toronto tied for third in the NHL last season at 3.29 goals per game.
Anaheim hasn’t been as stingy this season. The Ducks are 11th in the league in GAA (2.85), but they continue to feature one of the league’s top goaltenders in John Gibson.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have become stronger on offense thanks to the addition of explosive center John Tavares. They’ve also tightened up on defense behind former Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen.
Andersen, who was drafted in the third round by the Ducks in 2012 and played his first three NHL seasons in Anaheim, has built some of the best numbers in the league this season. After making 42 saves Thursday night in a 5-3 victory at the San Jose Sharks, backup goalie Garret Sparks will start against the Ducks.
Gibson and Andersen alternated starts for Anaheim during the 2015-16 season before the Ducks traded Andersen to Toronto in June 2016, making Gibson their No. 1 goalie. Anaheim signed Gibson to an eight-year contraction extension last summer.
The Ducks have been very successful this season when holding opponents to two regulation goals or fewer, owning an 8-0-2 record in those situations, compared to 0-8-1 when they don’t.
The main issue for Anaheim has been consistency, Gibson said.
The Ducks started the season 5-1-1, marking the fifth time in franchise history they accumulated at least 11 points through the first seven games. Anaheim followed that run by losing seven in a row, however, one shy of the franchise record.
Since ending the losing streak, the Ducks have alternated wins and losses over the past six games. They posted impressive one-goal victories against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators, only to lose their following game to the Los Angeles Kings (4-1), Minnesota Wild (5-1) and Vegas Golden Knights (5-0).
“We’ve been able to win one here and there, but not go on a run,” Gibson said. “Hopefully, we can start stringing some together.”
In the loss to the Golden Knights on Wednesday, Anaheim played without one of their top defensemen, Cam Fowler. He was struck in the face with the puck late in the third period against the Predators on Monday and sustained multiple fractures that will sideline him several weeks.
The Ducks will likely start three rookie defensemen against Toronto, which is averaging 3.50 goals — good for third in the NHL.
A big reason for the slight increase in offensive production this season has been the addition of Tavares, a five-time NHL All-Star who left the New York Islanders on July 1 and signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs.
Tavares scored the first goal Thursday night against the Sharks, giving him five goals and 10 points in a seven-game point streak.