The Anaheim Ducks’ run of five straight Pacific Division titles could be in jeopardy this season if the club is unable to overcome significant injuries as well as fend off the challenge of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. Captain Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks look to begin the new season on the right foot Thursday as they host the Arizona Coyotes at Honda Center.
“The ultimate goal is to build an organization where you don’t have to rebuild,” Getzlaf told the Orange County Register. The 32-year-old Getzlaf meshed well with Patrick Eaves upon the latter being acquired from Dallas at last season’s trade deadline, so much so that the unrestricted free agent Eaves promptly signed a three-year contract extension. While the Ducks boast a familiar look at the top of the division, the Coyotes will feature a new one with the absence of the longtime face of the franchise in Shane Doan (retired) as well as former Pittsburgh assistant Rick Tocchet taking over the coaching responsibilities from Dave Tippett. Goaltender Antti Raanta, who was acquired with top-line center Derek Stepan in an offseason trade with the New York Rangers, will be Arizona’s starter after it traded All-Star Mike Smith to Calgary.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, FSN Arizona, PRIME (Anaheim)
ABOUT THE COYOTES (2016-17: 30-42-10, 6th in Pacific Division): Max Domi sounded like a kid at Christmas with two new presents when he discussed the additions of Stepan and Raanta. “Those guys have a lot of experience and have played on some good hockey teams. Bringing that to our team and our organization is going to be huge,” Domi said, per ESPN. “I think Rants is exciting too, just because that guy has been itching to be a starter for his whole career and now he has an opportunity to do it.” Veteran defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson (Chicago) and Jason Demers (Florida) were acquired in the offseason and add to an already dynamic back end that features offensive-minded Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski.
ABOUT THE DUCKS (2016-17: 46-23-13, 1st in Pacific Division): Injuries are once again the name of the game in Anaheim, which will be without center Ryan Kesler (hip) until at least Christmas and defensemen Hampus Lindholm (shoulder) and Sami Vatanen (shoulder) for the first few weeks of the season. Blue-liners Cam Fowler and Josh Manson are expected to log considerable minutes on the Ducks’ back end in front of All-Star goaltender John Gibson (NHL fourth-best 2.22 GAA and .924 save percentage), who enjoyed a solid season before a lower-body injury forced him into the role of a spectator as Anaheim fell to Nashville in the Western Conference finals. Veteran Ryan Miller is an upgrade over Jonathan Bernier in the backup netminding role and should provide Gibson with well-timed breathers throughout the season.
1. Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell, who will shift from left wing to center in lieu of Kesler’s injury, scored a team-leading 33 goals last season after mustering just 29 in his previous two.
2. Arizona saw leading scorer Radim Vrbata (20 goals, 35 assists) sign with the Florida Panthers in the offseason.
3. Coyotes D Jakob Chychrun is on injured reserve as he recovers from knee surgery in August.
PREDICTION: Ducks 5, Coyotes 2