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Behind Enemy Lines: Anaheim Ducks Looking to Break Loose

Anaheim opens up a three-game homestand against Carolina.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Anaheim Ducks Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

So it begins: the Carolina Hurricanes have ventured west for the annual California vacation important road swing against a few perennial playoff teams. First up is a visit with the Anaheim Ducks, who will be eager to rid themselves of the feeling left by an 8-3 shelling they took in Calgary on Sunday night.

Anaheim will be kicking off a homestand during which they also take on the Sharks and Senators. Their home record (7-4-1) reads similar to Carolina’s (7-3-0), yet they own a four-point margin over the Canes in the standings with 29, good for 16th in the league.

The Ducks are led in scoring by their usual suspects: Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry, with 22, 21, and 20 points, respectively. They are joined by Rickard Rakell—who is 6th in team scoring despite missing 10 games—and Jakob Silfverberg, who offer a strong dose of scoring depth. Kesler and Silfverberg scored 2 goals each in Anaheim’s 4-2 win in Carolina back on November 10th.

Despite their talent, the Ducks remain just 16th in the league in goals per game with an average of 2.58, but they do make efficient use of their 5th ranked powerplay, scoring 22.9% of the time.

Defensively, Sami Vatanen and Cam Fowler have been the Ducks’ workhorses, with Hampus Lindholm and Kevin Bieksa logging heavy minutes as well. Fowler and Vatanen also have an offensive pedigree, ranking 5th and 8th in team scoring with 16 and 11 points, respectively.

This defensive core is older than Carolina’s, but posts similar numbers. The two teams rank 11th (CAR-2.52) and 12th (ANA-2.54) in goals against per game, and 4th (CAR-27.5) and 8th (ANA-29.0) in shots against per game.

Speaking of goals against, John Gibson and Jonathan Bernier have been tasked with keeping the stat line above average this season. But Bernier, acquired from Toronto for Frederik Andersen, had the unenviable task of sitting through the aforementioned 8-goal barrage in Calgary last weekend.

Still, both goalies have put up respectable numbers, with Gibson taking the lion’s share of the starts (19) and boasting a .915 save % and 2.45 GAA. Bernier, though his results took a hit in their last game, maintains a .906 save % and 2.77 GAA through 10 starts. Gibson has the team’s only shutout win.

Anaheim, much like Carolina, continues to search for consistency in their game. They came off their longest winning streak of the season—a three-game run over San Jose, Montreal, and Vancouver—last week by coming up short against divisional rivals Edmonton and Calgary. Given the tightly bunched state of affairs in the Pacific standings, the Ducks will need to string some wins together if they want to keep pace with the rest of the pack.

What to Watch For

  • Carolina stifled Tampa Bay’s then-top ranked powerplay on Sunday night, and the League’s best penalty-kill will need to travel well to take on a strong group in Anaheim. As has been the case for the Canes much of this year, the special teams narrative will be an important one in this game.
  • Expect John Gibson to get the start for Anaheim. He was fighting an illness in Calgary, which is why Bernier had to stay in net for all eight Flames goals, but seems to have recovered.
  • The Ducks could regain some offensive firepower tonight. Rickard Rakell, after sitting out the last game with an upper-body injury, practiced yesterday in a regular jersey, and said he’s “starting to feel better,” and hopes to be ready to play tonight.
  • The Hurricanes’ tenacity versus the Ducks’ puck movement will be an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on. Carolina will look to be aggressive and eliminate Anaheim’s time and space, but the Ducks are a strong, puck-moving team, particularly on defense, and can neutralize the Canes’ forecheck with some crisp passing on their breakout.