Coming into the 2011-12 season, the expectations for both teams were, well, low. You can imagine my surprise in writing this: the Ducks and Stars come into this game with a four game win streak and sit two points apart for the lead in the Pacific Division (only LA separates the two). Yes, it's early, but it's an intriguing match-up nonetheless.
On paper, the Ducks and Stars are nearly identical.
Wait. The Ducks have a lower Goals Against and Shots Against? That's unlike the Ducks teams we've come to know over the past few seasons, and I believe that's the reason for their current success. Defense has always been a question-mark for this team since the retirement of Scotty. After a year together (for the most part) the D-core is stepping up when the normally potent offense isn't. Another place where the D is helping more than we realize? The shots against. We all agreed going in to this season that keeping shot totals down was the key to Jonas Hiller's success. This stat is encouraging because I think around this time last year, he was facing nearly 40 shots a game.
I look for tonight to be the battle of the goaltenders. Hiller has been downright spectacular, as has Stars' netminder Kari Lehtonen. To be successful, the Ducks need to throw anything and everything at the net (that means you too, Ryan Getzlaf). Lehtonen isn't going let Leht-a-ton-en (get it?!). They also need to shut down Loui Eriksson at all costs. The perennial Lady Byng nominee is a Duck Hunter. He loves playing Anaheim as his career stats would indicate. In 30 games against the Ducks, Eriksson has rung up 12 goals and 9 assists.
It feels like we say this all the time, but this is a big game for the Ducks. Not only could they keep this unprecedented early season win streak alive, but they can grab a crucial two points from a division rival.