Ducks Flying Into Pittsburgh

California, best state - Bruce Bennett

...Because Penguins are flightless, y'see?

The Pittsburgh Penguins sit atop the Metropolitan Division, but all is not necessarily well – similar to our Anaheim Ducks at the end of this roadie. The Pens are 5-5-0 over their last 10 games. Want an interesting stat? I saw this kicking about Twitter yesterday: through their first eight games, the Pens scored 30 goals and went 7-1-0. The past 12 games, they’ve scored 25 goals and have gone 5-7-0. Infer from this what you will, but this is a frustrated team.

The Anaheim Ducks sit atop the Pacific Division but have gone 0-2-1 on this most recent road trip. The reasons are many, but injuries and the flu finally caught up with the guys. The combination of the two has forced a sort of roster musical chairs, and we’ve seen the team’s most inconsistent performances of the year in the last three games as a result.

Good news: Saku Koivu and Matt Beleskey are both practicing with the team. I expect them to play in Pittsburgh. I’d guess Koivu slots back between Daniel Winnik and Andrew Cogliano. Beleskey will likely see time with Nick Bonino and Kyle Palmieri – but again, I’m speculating. The best part about this is that Koivu and Beleskey figure to be relatively virus-free, and two fresh bodies playing at the end of a road trip can be a good energy infusion to the room. With four games in the this week, including this one, energy will be needed.

Keys to the Game: Puck possession will be the key to this game. The Penguins have enough high-end talent that, given the time and space of sustained pressure in the defensive end, will cause the team problems. After dropping three in a row, the best way to reestablish our game is to dominate the puck, dominate the chances, and frustrate the plans of the Pens, who try to play a possession-friendly game.

Given the talent on the opposing roster, I think it’s safe to say playing a clean game is an absolute must. Let’s not give players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin extra time and space to work on a PP. When we are given chances on special teams – and I predict we’ll have a few – we need to capitalize on them, making even strength play that much easier. But this is a storyline that can be repeated in every game, so nothing new here.

What Can We Learn From this Game: With Koivu and Beleskey coming back, young Ducks players like Rickard Rakell, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Patrick Maroon will be sweating it to stay on the team. I expect all three players will bounce back and forth between here and Norfolk all season – such is our forward logjam in Anaheim with Koivu and Teemu Selanne here still.

But until Jakob Silfverberg is ready to return, there’s going to be competition for ice time on the wing. Watching how these young guys perform against quality competition like the Penguins, as well as over the next stretch of games, will be interesting. Maroon has been pretty serviceable overall, but away from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry he isn’t very threatening. Meanwhile, Smith-Pelly has been noticeable – but how will he fare if his checker spot is taken away upon Koivu’s return?

Fearless Prediction: Beau Bennett, from Gardena, and Emerson Etem, from Long Beach, are going to settle a California gang war on the ice. It will not be pretty. All the Canadians will flee in terror. But both Bennett and Etem will come out of it better men, and probably begrudging best friends, because that is how Hollywood works.

Stay tuned here for updates throughout the day (lineup news, etc.) and start commenting. We'll have a quick stats pack shortly before puck drop for the in-game comments to flow.

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