First place in the Pacific Division to end the calendar year will be on the line on when the surprising Anaheim Ducks face the Vegas Golden Knights in a New Year’s Eve matinee in Las Vegas on Friday.
Vegas, which has won six of its last seven games and nine of its last 11, has rebounded from a 1-4-0 start to its injury-plagued season and enters the contest with a one-point lead over the Ducks, who had the second-fewest points in the entire NHL in last year’s pandemic-shortened 56-game regular-season.
Anaheim has scored points in 10 of its last 11 games (6-1-4) including one in a 2-1 overtime loss to visiting Vancouver on Wednesday night despite having star rookie forward Trevor Zegras (eight goals, 25 points) enter COVID-19 protocol on Tuesday where he joined Sam Steel and Max Comtois. Left wing Adam Henrique (lower body) missed his eighth straight game and forward Max Jones (torn pectoral muscle) missed his 30th while top defenseman Cam Fowler left the contest in the first period after losing an edge and crashing hard with his right shoulder into the boards.
“We’ll see how it reacts overnight,” said Ducks coach Dallas Eakins regarding Fowler, who’s listed as day-to-day. “We’ve been lucky so far this year with our top five ‘D,’ well, all of our ‘D’ staying healthy. Cam leads the way back there with minutes played. He eats a lot of minutes and plays against the other team’s top line. Him leaving the game certainly affects our game greatly.”
Anaheim also missed the sharp-shooting Zegras against the Canucks. The Ducks managed just one goal despite firing 64 shots, only 23 of which were on goal. Eighteen others were blocked while 23 more missed the net.
“We had some glorious chances there that we just missed the net on, and those are crucial to winning the game,” said Eakins. “We can’t miss that many plays at the net.”
Vancouver’s game-winning goal in OT came after the Ducks fired wide on a three-on-one break that left J.T. Miller with a breakaway that he fired past goalie John Gibson.
“At least if you hit the net that’s one chance, and if there’s a rebound, you’re getting another one,” said Eakins. “If you miss the net, it usually goes the other way. So we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit there.”
Vegas comes in off an impressive 6-3 victory at Los Angeles on Tuesday with center Jonathan Marchessault continuing his big season with two goals and an assist. The Golden Knights scored two more power-play goals to improve to 12-for-35 (34.3 percent) on the power play in December.
“It’s been rolling, so hopefully we can just keep it going and don’t look back,” said center Chandler Stephenson.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and forward Evgenii Dadonov, who both missed the game while in COVID-19 protocol, returned to practice on Thursday but forward Mark Stone, who has been battling right shoulder and right leg injuries, and goalie Robin Lehner (lower-body) were not at practice. Laurent Brossoit has started the last two games in goal for the Golden Knights in place of Lehner who hasn’t practiced since a Dec. 19 game against the New York Islanders.
–Field Level Media