Heading into the first of a seven game road trip, the Anaheim Ducks square off against a Pittsburgh Penguins team that was able to overcome a sluggish first 50+ minutes of play to snatch an overtime win on the road their last time out. It's the front end of a Pennsylvania back-to-back, with a game against Philadelphia in the offing tomorrow, but at hand today is the team holding down the final Eastern Conference wild card. Pittsburgh is tied points-wise with New Jersey, but has two games in hand on the Newark-based club, as well as holding three games in hand on the next two closest clubs in Montreal and Carolina.
Ducks: Friday, 2/5 vs Arizona (W 5-2). "Different Ducks Team Awaits Challenge Of Coyotes"
Penguins: Saturday, 2/6 at Florida (OW 3-2). "Crosby And Letang Fuel Big Comeback, Pens Win"
Riding a season-best six-game winning streak, the Ducks have been awfully close to untouchable on the current run, trailing for just 39:54, and just 17:28 discounting the Arizona game. That final contest before shoving off for the roadie was particularly impressive, as Anaheim conceded 1:34 into the game but was able to bounce back with goals 66 seconds apart in the second period, then press their edge in the third to the tune of a 3-0 differential against an Arizona team they had yet to beat this season. It was a game where the second line stepped to the forefront with Patrick Maroon having his best game since last year's playoffs, notching a a power play goal and two assists. The Big Dog in tandem with Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry had been below 50% in shot attempt generation since the lineup shuffle coming into the game, but while the trio were around the break even mark for attempts at even strength against the Coyotes, they had a hand in three of the Anaheim goals.
Much has been made of Anaheim's struggles in the second period, not only this season but under the entire tenure of head coach Bruce Boudreau, but of late it's been the third period that has been winning time for the Ducks. On the current winning streak Anaheim has outscored their opponents 9-3 in the final frame, while scoring the game winner in the third period in half of their games (three) over the recent run of success. The Ducks have a -3 shots on goal differential in final regulation period over the streak, but that's heavily influenced by the -10 differential against Los Angeles when they were defending a three goal lead. For as much as they've been dominant in the third period, in the longstanding bugaboo seconds they have a +3 goal differential and +12 shots on goal edge during this current run of form.
Since the late night trade that acquired Carl Hagelin from the Ducks in exchange for David Perron and Adam Clendening on January 16/17, Pittsburgh is 6-2-0 with their most recent win coming on the road against the Atlantic Division leading Florida Panthers. It's a trade that has been mutually beneficial, with Perron putting up three goals and five assists in Anaheim, and Hagelin contributing five assists in his eight games in a Penguins sweater. Though scoreless in his last two games, Hagelin had a five-game assist streak after his first game with the Steel City side, having primarily played alongside Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin at even strength since his arrival.
The usual focal points when facing Pittsburgh have been heating up of late, as Sidney Crosby is currently riding a 10-game point streak where he's scored 10 goals (at least one in the last six games) and eight assists (including his 900th career point against Florida), while Malkin has put up five goals and seven assists over the same span but will miss his third consecutive game tonight. Top scoring defenseman Kris Letang has nine goals and 28 assists for the season, and has four goals and eight assists in his last nine games, while Kessel had a five-game point streak snapped against Florida but has three goals and five assists since the Hagelin trade. Marc-Andre Fleury is always a question between the pipes, but before he was pulled in his last start after allowing four goals on 14 shots against Tampa Bay, he had won his previous five starts with a .910 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.
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.