A lot has been made lately, and at the start of the season, of the Ducks' travel schedule for the first half of the season. The idea that was posed by Bruce Boudreau and Bob Murray at the start of the season was that if they could handle the heavy travel through Christmas and come out in contention for a playoff spot they'd be well positioned with the majority of their games at home for the rest of the year.
They couldn't have really positioned themselves any better than top of the league at Christmas, however we should remember that some of that is due to the fact that 22 out of the Ducks 40 games played so far have come against the weaker Eastern Conference. So far this season, Western teams have earned points in 71% of their games against the East, and the Ducks have done even better with their 14-5-3 record, earning points in 77% of Eastern Conference matchups.
So while the travel will ease up a bit on the Ducks the rest of the way, the schedule isn't necessarily getting any easier. In fact, with only 10 of their remaining 42 games against intra-conference opponents, the real test is just beginning and this week's home and home with San Jose is a Hell of a way to kick it off.
Keys to the Game: Last time out against the Sharks, Anaheim was outplayed territoriality in the first period but managed to come out if it with a lead. The dam broke in the second and as San Jose sat back to defend their two goal lead in the third, the Ducks came back with goals from Alex Grant and Ben Lovejoy to push the game to overtime and eventually a shootout.
So, to make a long story short (too late) the Ducks escaped with a point that they didn't really deserve based on the sluggish first 40 minutes and that's not a mistake that the Sharks will be likely to allow again.
Last night against Phoenix, the Ducks did a fantastic job of controlling the pace from start to finish and were frankly unlucky not to have shut the Coyotes out 2-0. The difficulty in replicating that performance will come from the fact that last night Phoenix was the team on the second half of back to backs and tonight in San Jose the tables are turned. Also, the Sharks are an exponentially more dangerous offensive team to contain the way that the Ducks did to Phoenix.
What Can We Learn From This Game: San Jose is seven points back in the race for the Pacific Division lead (which isn't as far back as it sounds with two games in hand). It's the proverbial four point game, and not only that there are two in a row. Aside from one week at the beginning of the month, the Ducks haven't really been tested against the best of the West, and even that left something to be desired when you consider three of those four games went to shootouts.
If the Ducks are going to be taken seriously as the contenders their record claims they are, they'll have to show it in games like tonight and Tuesday.
Fearless Prediction: I will be thoroughly irritated by my first trip to the Shark Tank, even if the Ducks win because... well, Sharks fans y'know...
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