Date: Friday, January 4th
Time: 7:00 PT / 10:00 ET
Location: Honda Center
TV: SN, FS-W
The Anaheim Ducks have been playing significantly better in the last few games, despite the results not reflecting that statement. They are coming off a 2-1 OT loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a game that could be argued as their best performance of the season. The Ducks out-chanced the Lightning early and continued to take the game to Tampa Bay, with only one minor defensive breakdown resulting in the goal they gave up in regulation. Such is the way of life playing against a team that was 30-7-2 at the time.
The overtime period featured yet another 2-on-1 against the Ducks that gave John Gibson little chance to make a miraculous stop to keep the Ducks alive. I hesitate to say “no chance” because Gibson has proven to the hockey world that there really might not be a puck that he can’t get to. He had a few stellar saves against Tampa Bay and the Ducks will need him to be sharp again against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Knights are coming to town riding a four-game winning streak, fresh off a 2-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings. Vegas seems to have finally found that groove that they rode to a Pacific Division title last season and they are 6-1-3 in their last ten games because of it. They have vaulted into second place in the Pacific, behind only the Calgary Flames by only two points.
Player to Watch
The player I am keeping an eye on in this game is Daniel Sprong. Sprong was acquired by the Ducks a few weeks ago and has been making immediate impacts for Anaheim. He is finding ways to hit the back of the net, and his game seems to have elevated significantly through his time on the top line with Ryan Getzlaf as his center. A natural shooter paired with the most dangerous passer in the league (yeah, I said it Crosby) could be a huge boost for a guy like Daniel Sprong, and I’ll be looking to see if he can help to move the offense for the Ducks, both at even strength and on the power play.
Keys to the Game
Goaltending - Let’s get the obvious one out of the way early. The Ducks know how important John Gibson is to their season, and if they are going to beat teams that are finding ways to win a lot more often than they lose, they will need Gibson to have another great game to give them that chance. Marc-Andre Fleury has also been hot recently, so the Ducks offense will have their hands full with trying to get to the front of the net and get pucks past him.
Discipline - The Vegas Golden Knights found a power play groove through the month of November and early December, but they have scored power play goals in both of their games against Anaheim so far this season, mostly due to the opportunities they had. They were 1-for-5 in their first game against the Ducks and 1-for-6 in their second. Perhaps the Ducks should try to limit this game to under three power play opportunities.
Just Hang On - The Ducks have lost six games in a row, and quite honestly, I’m just hanging on for the returns of Cam Fowler, Rickard Rakell, and maybe even Patrick Eaves (!!!). All three have been skating in practice recently and the Ducks lineup could see a significant positive shake-up in the coming weeks. This key to the game also applies specifically to this game in particular, as Vegas is known for fast starts. Try not to get buried early and you won’t have to play catch up through the second half of the game.