Remember when the Anaheim Ducks regularly played hockey games? It's okay to have forgotten, as it's been just one game for Anaheim over the course of the last ten days. It's been even longer since the team had a quality outing, as their one showing sandwiching breaks of four and five days was a home dud that saw Ryan Getzlaf call out a lack of professionalism for the showing. Happy Holidays indeed.
Ducks: Friday, December 11 vs Carolina. "Big Night For Lack, Ducks Lose 5-1"
Sabres: Tuesday, December 15 vs New Jersey. "Schneider Shuts Out Sabres In 2-0 Snoozer"
After the lengthy spell of rest, Anaheim finds themselves in the basement of the Pacific Division with 27 points, but only three points out of third place and the final guaranteed playoff spot with a game in hand. While Vancouver and San Jose have been sputtering, both the Alberta teams are riding a run of strong form as Edmonton and Calgary have each posted 7-2-1 marks over their past ten games. The Ducks have three games in hand on both Vancouver and Edmonton, while having a game on hand on the other four division rivals. Four teams sit three points ahead of the Ducks tied for third.
Jiri Sekac is expected to make his return to the lineup and reports have him set to assume the second line left wing spot vacated with Nick Ritchie returning to the minors. The 23-year old winger has appeared in 30 regular season games for the franchise since being acquired from Montreal for Devante Smith-Pelly last season, putting up three goals and seven assists with the webbed-foot D on his chest. Sekac hasn't suited up since November 1, and has been out of the lineup in 21 of 51 possible regular season games and nine of 16 possible playoff games since joining the club. With Nate Thompson serving a three game suspension for an ugly elbow to the head of Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk, Mike Santorelli is anticipated to fill his spot as the fourth line center.
Though just three points ahead of Toronto to stay out of the Atlantic Division cellar while having played a trio more games, Buffalo has been much more competitive this season. At this point last year the team had conceded 104 goals and had a -42 goal differential through 32 games, while this season despite having just one more point through 32 games have improved the goal differential to just -12, better than four other Eastern Conference teams. Before being shut out by New Jersey in their most recent game, the Sabres won in Detroit and tipped Los Angeles in overtime at home.
The big driver offensively has been Ryan O'Reilly, putting up near point-per-game pace with 11 goals and 17 assists. Rasmus Ristolainen has been a welcome presence as well with seven scores and 16 helpers. Despite the second selection ballyhoo Jack Eichel has had three sets of back-to-back games with points, but is scoreless in his last five (the longest stretch of his young career) and is tied for sixth in rookie scoring with 14 points from nine goals and five assists. Defenseman Tyler Ennis recently returned to practice, while the duo of Chad Johnson and Linus Ullmark have each posted .911 save percentages with expected starter Robin Lehner on the injured list.
Two hours before face off we'll have the game thread up, featuring the full Stat Pack, likely with expected lines, and of course your Numbers For Nerds.