The game that every NHL team has circled on their calendar has arrived for the Ducks. The Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins will stop by Honda Center tonight to take on the Ducks who, like all other teams, will use this game as a measuring stick against the best team in the NHL.
And make no mistake, these Penguins are still the best team in the NHL. Not only did they win the Cup last year, but they’ve roared out to the best record in the Eastern Conference and are tied for the league lead in points with an Avalanche team that’s played one more game than they have.
The Ducks will look at the Penguins’ roster and consider themselves lucky while looking at their own and consider themselves unlucky. Pittsburgh will play tonight without superstar Center Evgeni Malkin, last year’s league leader in points and numerous other categories and winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy. Meanwhile the Ducks will play without the recently suspended James Wisniewski because of an incident in Saturday’s game against Phoenix. Not quite an even trade-off, but one the Ducks will gladly take.
The Penguins are also missing star defenseman Sergei Gonchar who will be out an extended period of time. The fact that their team is missing those two players makes their 11-3-0 record that much more impressive. Oh, and they’re also 6-0 on the road.
Needless to say, the Ducks are in for a tough game.
The game will also feature the return of fan-favorite Chris Kunitz. Kunitz was a valuable part of the Ducks’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2007 and can suddenly claim to have his name on the Cup twice as he won it again with the Penguins last season. I don’t believe there is a video tribute scheduled for Kunitz, but I sure hope they throw one together for a player that is sorely missed here in Anaheim.
The Ducks will have a difficult time scoring again tonight as the Penguins only give up an average of 2.16 goals per game behind the stellar play of netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. Add that to the fact that they score 3.36 per game and it would seem as though the Ducks are in trouble already. Superstar Center Sidney Crosby has been playing well for the team as he’s taken the role of being a finisher in the early season.
If the Ducks are going to win tonight it will have to be done in the trenches. They will have to play a gritty game and wear down the young defense of the Penguins while crashing the net at every opportunity. Look for the Ducks to be in hard on the fore-check and continue the hard-hitting style they played in Phoenix.
Line combinations are below:
Bobby Ryan – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry
Joffrey Lupul – Saku Koivu – Teemu Selanne
Evgeny Artyukhin – Todd Marchant – Petteri Nokelainen
Mike Brown – Ryan Carter – George Parros
Scott Niedermayer – Nick Boynton
Ryan Whitney – Steve Eminger
Sheldon Brookbank – Brendan Mikkelson
From Mike G. Morreale at NHL.com:
PENGUINS (11-3-0) at DUCKS (4-6-2)
Season series – The first and only meeting of the season between the clubs will mark the first of a four-game West Coast road trip for the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Pittsburgh, 2-0-1 against Anaheim in its last three meetings, hasn’t lost to the Ducks since suffering a 3-2 overtime setback in 2006-07.Sidney Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. In addition to leading the Eastern Conference with 11 wins and 22 points, the Pens are one of only two teams in the League — the New Jersey Devils being the other — unbeaten on the road at 6-0-0. Since coach Dan Bylsma took over the reigns as head coach on Feb. 15, the Penguins have gone 14-2-3 in the regular season away from Mellon Arena.
Penguins – It’s a homecoming of sorts for Bylsma, who spent his entire NHL playing career in sunny California. Bylsma played parts of five seasons with the Los Angeles Kings and parts of four seasons with the Ducks. Following their meeting with the Ducks, the Pens will be in Los Angeles on Thursday and San Jose on Saturday before heading east with a matchup against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 10.Ryan Getzlaf centering Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry has been absolutely lights out this season. The trio has combined for 13 goals (4 power-play goals) and 33 points in 12 games. Perry is obviously hoping to make a great impression prior to the announcement of the Canadian roster that will compete for a gold medal in Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Olympics. While Getzlaf is a relative lock to make the team, Perry is one of those players “on the fence.”Alex Goligoski not only leads all NHL players with a plus-12 rating, but he’s connected for 12 points in 14 games. Perry scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season in a 3-2 overtime loss to Phoenix on Halloween night. He has 4 goals in his last 3 games.Sergei Gonchar (broken left wrist), Evgeni Malkin (shoulder strain) and Tyler Kennedy (undisclosed) are out. Forward Maxime Talbot is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (strained groin muscle) has been placed on injured reserve, and Justin Pogge is the backup to starter Jonas Hiller.
Puck Drop – It’s obviously a huge test for Anaheim, just 1-4-1 in its last six games. Hiller started consecutive nights for the first time this season over the weekend — making 36 saves in a 7-2 win over Vancouver before dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to Phoenix behind 30 saves.
Last 10 – Pittsburgh 8-2-0; Anaheim 4-5-1
Big Story – The Penguins are certainly picking up where they left off last season behind captain
“This will be a chance to go on the road; a week trip going out west,” Bylsma said. “We should have some time to focus on our game and this is a trip you circle. This is a good time for our team to go out on the road. We’re looking forward to a little bit of rest and getting on the road.”
“There are always things you feel like you can improve, but it’s pretty tough to complain with an 11-3 record. You’ve got to be pretty happy with that,” Crosby said.
Ducks – The top line of
Who’s Hot – Crosby has risen to 12th in the NHL scoring race with a team-leading 16 points (9 goals) after notching just 4 goals over his first 9 games. He trails Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who leads the League, by 7 points. Penguins D
Injury Report – For the Penguins,
Stat Pack – Fleury, who is also making a case to be one of the three goalies selected to represent Team Canada in Vancouver in February, ranks second in the NHL with 9 victories to complement a 2.07 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.