Despite a strong season record (12-4-5), the Ducks have not looked sharp in recent games. Thursday's nail biter in Vancouver was preceded by a three-game skid, and the shootout win over the Canucks (which followed a second period collapse), does not inspire confidence that the team is turning a corner. Though the Ducks currently lead the West with 29 points, four teams are within two points of taking over the lead. (So, basically, it really means nothing).
Tonight's game will also give the Ducks an opportunity to improve upon their terrible recent home record, which is 1-2-3 over the past six games. The Ducks are putting shots on goal - they average a +5.3 margin in shots - but shots do not necessarily equal goals. And not to further tempt mugumbo, but the Ducks' most recent five game winning streak was snapped with a 3-2 shootout loss to Arizona on November 7.
In terms of personnel, it will be intriguing to see if Rene Bourque (recently acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Bryan Allen) will make his Ducks debut today. Bourque scored at least 21 goals/season from 2008-09 to 2010-11, but his career has stalled since. As of this writing, it's unclear if Bourque will be able to play tonight as been waiting for a US work visa since the trade on Thursday morning.
The Arizona Coyotes have a less appealing record (9-10-2), but have won 5 of 7 games on the road. Martin Hanzal missed his third consecutive game last night with a lower body injury, and winger Mikkel Boedker has leads the Coyotes in scoring (7 goals) but does not have a point in his last nine games against the Ducks.
What Can We Learn From This Game?
We will learn if the Ducks can play 60 minutes of disciplined hockey, and defend their house against the ascendant Coyotes.
The Ducks have no room to take a period off, or squander a lead. This will just open the door for a hungry Arizona team that has had a lot of recent road success. We will also learn if the Ducks have addressed their powerplay issues. As I mentioned in my Game Notes, the Ducks are putting a lot of shots on goal, yet most of those are not quality shots.
Despite their struggles, the Ducks have recently seen major contributions from players who are known for streaky play, specifically Matt Beleskey and Jakob Silfverberg. Beleskey is inconsistent, but his hard work and grit allow him to make a difference on the ice (as I typed this sentence, a memory of Jason Blake suddenly wafted over me. Weird). Will Beleskey and Silfverberg overcome their issues with inconsistency and play significant roles against Arizona. Or, will they return to their streaky inconsistency?
And most importantly, we will learn if the Ducks can win in regulation. Though the Ducks are still in a good position, and it is still fairly early in the season, their apathetic play does not bode well for the post season. They'll need to cultivate a killer instinct if they want to go far.
Certified Coyote Killer Ryan Getzlaf - who has five goals and seven assists in his last nine matchups against Arizona - will score a hat trick.