ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks try to continue their recent spurt and fortify their playoff hopes against one of the Eastern Conference’s worst teams when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at the Honda Center.
The Ducks won four of their past five games to move into second place in the Pacific Division and take hold of fourth place in the Western Conference’s overall standings. Should they retain that conference position when the regular-season ends, the Ducks would hold home-ice advantage against any first-round opponent.
“Points are points right now,” Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf said. “We’re in a dogfight in trying to finish as high as we can so we can get home-ice advantage in that first round, at least. We want to build something. We want to play well. It’s about the way we’re playing and the consistency we can play with.”
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Getzlaf and left winger Rickard Rakell are leading the Ducks’ offense during their surge. Getzlaf has six goals and 19 points in his past 14 games, while Rakell scored in three straight games, including his 30th of the season, in amassing eight in the last nine contests.
But Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle believes defense is pivotal. Since Christmas, the Ducks allowed the fewest goals in the NHL (75).
“We haven’t been able to generate enough offense,” Carlyle said. “We knew that if we could be stout defensively five-on-five and improve our penalty killing, then we would give ourselves the best chance. We’re not going to win the 5-4 games. We try to convince our players that it’s the 2-1 game, the 3-2 game, the 1-0 game that’s going to be the model we’re going to have to adopt.”
The Ducks followed that model Wednesday night with a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues. In its past four wins, Anaheim conceded six goals.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier is the main beneficiary. Bernier, replacing the injured John Gibson, earned each of Anaheim’s four most recent victories while compiling a 1.47 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage.
The Sabres, however, look toward next season as they prepare for their final game against a Western Conference opponent. Buffalo lost five of six after Thursday night’s 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings as it heads for its fourth straight losing season.
“We’ve got to find consistency in the way we play, find an identity that we can build off and that we have as a foundation, as a team and as an organization,” right winger Brian Gionta told NHL.com. “That’s what the goal would be coming down the stretch here.”
Center Jack Eichel offers hope for the future while making significant contributions now. Eichel, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, became the first Sabre in a decade to score 20 goals in each of his first two seasons. Eichel scored his 20th in Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
In his past 10 games, Eichel has seven goals and 14 points. Yet the 20-year-old’s poise during that stretch most impresses Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma.
“One thing Jack has done really well is respond in the game to different situations,” Bylsma told the Buffalo News. “Whether it’s a mistake or turnover or a power play that hasn’t gone well, I think he’s done a remarkable job lately playing that way. The last stretch of games, he’s been the guy with the go-after it attitude and the keep-playing attitude. That’s what I’ve liked about Jack the last 10 games.”