Ducks looking to start path back to contention
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Two teams desperate to get back into contention in the Western Conference meet when the Minnesota Wild play the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on Friday evening.
For the Ducks (12-11-6), the game marks the chance to put consecutive victories together for the first time since Nov. 19-20. They defeated the visiting Ottawa Senators 3-0 on Wednesday.
Minnesota (13-11-3) had a two-game victory streak snapped Tuesday night in Los Angeles, losing 5-2 to the Kings.
Despite being the road team, the Wild come in more rested than Anaheim does. Before playing the Kings, Minnesota battled St. Louis at home on Saturday. The Ducks played a set of road-home back-to-back games Tuesday night in Las Vegas and Wednesday against Ottawa.
The Minnesota game will be Anaheim’s fifth in eight days. The Wild begin a string of five games in nine days with the matchup against the Ducks.
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter leads the league in ice time on a per-game basis. He will need to contain an injury-depleted Ducks team that still boasts the scoring talent of Corey Perry as well as recent acquisition Adam Henrique.
Perry became the first Ducks player to reach 20 points on the year with his breakaway slap-shot goal Tuesday in Vegas. He has a three-game point streak after gaining one assist against Ottawa.
Henrique has five points in his first four games with the Ducks, including two goals on Wednesday night against the Senators. The second of those went into an empty net.
“It’s actually been a pretty good transition,” Henrique said. “The guys have been great on and off the ice, talking to me a lot. As far as the systems, I felt pretty good jumping in and playing right away. I felt great. It’s been great so far. Been a lot of fun.”
The Wild’s offensive threat rests with Jason Zucker and Eric Staal. However, both Minnesota goals Tuesday came from their depth squad, one each from Charlie Coyle and Tyler Ennis.
Anaheim’s defense lost Sami Vatanen, traded to New Jersey for Henrique. The Ducks’ blue line also is without Hampus Lindholm due to injury. Lindholm played 25 minutes against Nashville on Saturday but did not suit up for either game of the back-to-back. He was placed on injured reserve on Monday.
The Ducks still lack four of their top six forwards due to injury. Rickard Rakell came back to play against Vegas after missing five games. He recorded an assist in 13:31 of playing time Wednesday night against Ottawa.
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said, “It was more like a business-like attitude we took toward the hockey game (Wednesday). We knew we were playing a team that was going to come in here desperate. We had to manage the puck properly and do some things more consistently. Tonight, we were much more on our toes and much more committed to doing the little things.”
Minnesota is missing Jared Spurgeon, out since late November, and Zach Parise, who had back surgery in October. The Wild recalled center Joel Eriksson Ek from Iowa (AHL) on Wednesday.
The Wild will need to play a consistent 60 minutes, unlike their performance at Los Angeles. Minnesota opened the scoring midway through the second period and led 2-1 by the end of 40 minutes. The Kings poured in four goals in the third period, including an empty-net tally.
“That’s not how you want to come out for your third period,” Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk said. “I think we played a real good road game for the first two (periods) and we had a 2-1 lead going into the third period. We want to be coming out with a point at least, and to give up a two-on-one from the far blue line at the start of the period, it puts us on our heels and it’s not how we want to come out when we’re winning a game on the road.”
Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau added, “You knew they were plus-23 in the third (period) and leading the league in that. We knew they were going to come out (strong). If we hadn’t done what we did in the first 35 minutes in the game, I thought we were really good in denying a lot of scoring chances and getting it deep and playing the way we have to play to be successful.”
Goaltending for Anaheim will likely be handled by John Gibson. On Tuesday, he stopped 40 shots in the shootout loss to Vegas. On Wednesday, Ryan Miller made 29 saves against Ottawa for his 40th career shutout.
Dubnyk is the presumed starter for the Wild. He stopped 23 shots against the Kings. The prior game, he tied his season high with 41 saves.