While the surprising Calgary Flames have been one of the league’s hottest clubs in the past six weeks, the first-place Anaheim Ducks have struggled without Frederik Andersen.
In a matchup between two of the Pacific Division’s top teams, the Flames hope to avoid their first back-to-back losses since early January and deal the visiting Ducks their sixth defeat in seven games Friday night.
Anaheim (35-16-7) was tied with Nashville for the most points in the Western Conference before a 1-4-1 stretch left it well behind the Central Division-leading Predators despite maintaining a healthy cushion in the Pacific.
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"I don’t think anybody is very happy with what’s going on," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It’s up to us. We can’t hang our heads because every other team wants to win, too. We have to pull ourselves out of this."
Boudreau’s squad is having a difficult time defensively, allowing 21 goals over the past five games. That stretch began when Andersen suffered head and neck injuries from a falling net in a 5-3 loss at Tampa Bay on Feb. 8.
John Gibson is expected to make his first career start versus Calgary after scuffling in a 5-3 loss to visiting Washington on Sunday and allowing all of Tampa Bay’s goals in the second period of a 4-1 home defeat on Wednesday.
The Flames (32-22-4), seeking their first playoff berth since 2008-09, have moved within nine points of the Ducks over an 11-4-1 stretch. They’ll now try to regroup after a two-game winning streak ended with Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota – a team Calgary could win up battling for a wild-card spot down the road – in the third of this four-game stay at Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Flames haven’t lost consecutive games since dropping their first three in January.
”Obviously, we didn’t want to give them two (points), and we wanted to win that game in overtime,” defenseman Dennis Wideman said. ”But to get it there and get that one point and make sure it’s not a two-point swing, that’s a positive that we can take out of it.”
Leading goal-scorers Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan have five points apiece on the homestand, with Hudler netting three goals in the past two games. Hudler has four goals in his last six meetings with the Ducks, while Monahan has a goal and an assist in the season series.
Since Wideman scored twice in a 4-3 shootout home win over the Ducks on Nov. 18, Calgary has dropped the last two matchups in Anaheim – 3-2 on Nov. 25 and 6-3 on Jan. 21.
Jonas Hiller came on in relief of Joni Ortio in last month’s meeting after going 1-1-0 with a 2.95 goals-against average in the first two against his former club. He’s 6-3-1 with a 2.16 GAA in his 10 games – nine starts – since the All-Star break, though it’s uncertain if he or Karri Ramo will get the starting nod.
Calgary has been short-handed less than any team in the league (134) but continues to be particularly stingy when it does head to the box, holding opponents scoreless on 19 power plays over its last 10 games. That doesn’t bode well for an Anaheim team that has gone 0 for 7 with the man advantage in its past three.
Defenseman Sami Vatanen, who has a team-high seven power-play goals, is sidelined at least four weeks with a lower-body injury. Forward Matt Beleskey has two goals and two assists in the season series, but he’s out due to an upper-body injury.
Although he has just one goal in his last nine games, Kyle Palmieri has scored in each of the three meetings with Calgary.