Blues-Ducks Preview

The Associated Press

The Anaheim Ducks return from the Olympic break leading the NHL in points, which at a quick glance might have made them unlikely candidates for having needed the rest.

With a bit of a skid leading up to the time off, the Ducks reconvene Friday night at home against the St. Louis Blues looking for a season sweep of one of the Western Conference's other top teams as they begin a busy stretch run.

"We're more conscious of it now than we were (before), and as an organization, we have to look at that and get our rest when we can," Ducks center and Canadian gold medalist Ryan Getzlaf said. "And with 22 games left, the excitement is going to build real quickly. We're not going to have that lull that perhaps we had in the past where we were battling for that spot.

"Right now we have a lot of excitement around our team and where we're heading."

The Ducks (41-14-5) lost three times and were shut twice in their last four games, but they still lead the West with 87 points. They'll get a chance to pad their lead over the Blues (39-13-6), Chicago, San Jose and Colorado with a five-game homestand to kick off the stretch run.

Twelve of their last 22 will be played at the Honda Center, where they've gone 22-5-2. While that remains among the best home records in hockey, all five regulation losses have come in their last seven, including three straight.

"We just need to keep working hard," forward and Swedish silver medalist Jakob Silfverberg said. "We were outworking the opposing teams every night, and that's what we need to do to be successful. If you work hard, all the other stuff falls into place."

Three points back of the Ducks with two games in hand, the Blues can now begin to swing things in their favor for the top spot in the West.

But St. Louis' normally imposing offense didn't click in its first game back. The Blues fell 1-0 at Vancouver on Wednesday, suffering their first shutout of the season to begin a three-game road trip.

"Pretty sluggish," American Olympian T.J. Oshie told the team's official website. "Our line (Oshie, David Backes and Patrik Berglund) was over in Sochi, but the zones are so much longer and obviously the boards aren't as wide. It just seemed like it was a long ways to go from the top of the circles to the blue line."

St. Louis was outshot 35-20 while Jaroslav Halak, who played two games for Slovakia in the Olympics, kept his team in the game with 34 saves.

"It was a pretty good pace for 60 minutes," Halak said. "It was just that we came up short. We couldn't score."

Halak hasn't been good at all recently against the Ducks, going 0-3-0 with a 4.75 goals-against average and .804 save percentage since March 21, 2012. He allowed three goals in less than eight minutes on Dec. 7 against Anaheim before being pulled from a 5-2 home loss.

The Ducks also won 3-2 in St. Louis on Jan. 18. Getzlaf had a goal and an assist in each game while St. Louis forward Jaden Schwartz also scored in each.

Anaheim has never swept a season series against the Blues.

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