Ducks return from bye to face Maple Leafs
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks will try to defy the odds by becoming one of the few NHL teams to gain a victory coming off a bye when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday at Honda Center.
The Ducks (32-21-10) resume play in third place in the Pacific Division, trailing the second-place Oilers by two points with a game in hand on Edmonton.
Anaheim general manager Bob Murray stood pat at this week’s trade deadline, adding no additional punch to his 20th-ranked offense. Anaheim did lose forward Joseph Cramarossa to the Vancouver Canucks on a waiver claim and executed a minor league deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, but the roster that will face the Maple Leafs will be the same as the one that entered the five-day bye.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle is eager to get his charges rolling with an eye to a tough schedule right out of the box, knowing teams have an ugly 4-12-4 record after the scheduled time off.
“You’re playing a lot of hockey right away,” Carlyle told the team’s website on Thursday. “That’s what the schedule has decided, and those are the challenges that come with it. We have a healthy group of bodies here other than John Gibson.”
Gibson, the Ducks No. 1 goaltender, will miss his third consecutive game due to a lower-body injury. The Ducks will continue to go with Jonathan Bernier and Jhonas Enroth between the pipes until Gibson feels he is ready to resume his starting duties.
The Ducks are aware of the poor record of teams with prolonged rest, and they are determined to bring a strong 60-minute performance in a pivotal game as they battle for potential home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’re ready to go tomorrow,” Josh Manson said Thursday. “Guys looked fresh, and we’re excited to get back to Honda Center to play a game. When you’re off the ice for that long, you get the itch to get back. We’re excited to go.”
While the Ducks are well-rests, the Leafs are coming off a Thursday night game.
Toronto (28-21-13) blew a two-goal, third-period lead in Los Angeles on Thursday in dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the Kings. The loss was their fourth straight, and their shootout record dropped to a league-worst 1-8.
“It’s tough. I don’t really know how to explain it; we just haven’t had good luck in it,” Leafs center Tyler Bozak said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t get too high when you win them and you can’t get too low when you lose them. We want to make the playoffs. When we get there, we’re not going to have to deal with them.”
The Maple Leafs are in the midst of a stretch that sees them playing six of eight games away from Air Canada Centre, and so far, their trek has produced only one point in two games. The shootout loss dropped them into a tie with the Islanders for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, though New York has a game in hand.
Coach Mike Babcock will turn to backup goalie Curtis McIlhenny in an attempt to salvage one game of their three-game California trip. Starter Fredrik Andersen turned aside 33 out 35 shots to earn the Leafs an important point Thursday.
Despite the loss, the Leafs were optimistic about their chances of getting a win against a Ducks team that should have some rust coming off inactivity.
“It was a good road game and we played good hockey for a lot of the game,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said of the defeat at Los Angeles. “I think we are happy with the way we competed, but at the end of the day, at this time of the year, the most important thing that happens is who wins.”
Toronto coach Mike Babcock agreed but stressed the importance of each game with the playoff race as tight as it is. He was pleased with the overall performance but knows that only wins will get the franchise back to the postseason.
“We have to find ways to get points,” Babcock said. “We are unmistakably on the outside right now in the playoff race and have to keep grinding.”