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Game #25 Preview: Sonny comes home

Here’s what you need to know

Anaheim Ducks v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Thursday, December 9, 2021 - 7:00 EST
Nationwide Arena - Columbus, Ohio
TV: Bally Sports Ohio; Radio: 97.1 FM

Anaheim Ducks (14-8-5, 33 points, 2nd Pacific, 3rd West)

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Columbus Blue Jackets (13-11-0, 26 points, 5th Metro, 9th East)

The Ducks are one of the biggest surprises of the NHL season, as they’ve gone from missing the playoffs the last three seasons to being an unlikely contender for the Pacific Division crown — ahead of teams like Vegas and Edmonton. The Blue Jackets are coming off of a loss in Toronto that was their fifth loss in the last six games, but they are returning to the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena, where they are significantly more successful this season.

Player to Watch

Sonny Milano

This is the big storyline tonight. Milano was a first round selection by Columbus in 2014 but over parts of five seasons he struggled to stay in the lineup. He had 14/8/22 in 55 games in 2017-18, but just 6/14/20 in the other 61 games he played. His play away from the puck was never up to John Tortorella’s standard, and for all of his offensive skill he couldn’t score (or even shoot) consistently enough to warrant a full time offensive deployment on a top 6 line. At the trade deadline in 2020, he was dealt to Anaheim for Devin Shore, a depth forward the Jackets needed as the injured reserve list grew more crowded.

Milano scored five points in nine games with Anaheim before the COVID outbreak brought the Ducks’ season to a premature finish. Last season, he was scoreless in six games as he battled concussion issues. He was put on waivers earlier this season, but upon his return to the lineup he was paired up with breakout second year player Trevor Zegras and the two New Yorkers have clicked beautifully. Their latest masterpiece came on Tuesday night in Buffalo. We’ve seen lacrosse-style goals, but a lacross-style pass is a new one. Is it a hockey alley-oop? Zegras has gotten most of the buzz for this but it shows Milano’s exceptional hand-eye coordination that he could bat the puck out of the air to knock it into the goal.

One of our prospects is trying to master the move himself:

So, were we wrong to trade Milano away when we did? Maybe, maybe not. You can’t wait forever in case a prospect finally finds his game, because he might not. It’s possible he needed a change of scenery to succeed. Certainly playing with a talent like Zegras helps, and on a team which has the luxury of playing him on the top line. Those spots were taken in Columbus when Milano was here before. No one expected Anaheim to be good, so they had nothing to lose by giving Milano this opportunity. Our former colleague Elaine Shircliff explained it well:

Jackets Notes

The long civic nightmare is over (for now): Scott Harrington cleared waivers and has been assigned to Cleveland. Emil Bemstrom was recalled, and for now I’m penciling him into the lineup. Where will he play? Who knows. Based on his play in preseason, prior to suffering an oblique injury, he was playing a 200 foot game so he could help this team on both offense and defense, much like we’ve seen from Alexandre Texier.

The Other Bench

The Ducks are without franchise legend Ryan Getzlaf, who is on the IR with a lower body injury. Adam Henrique also has a lower body injury and is day to day ... John Gibson is having another great season, and despite seeming like he has played forever is less than a year older than Elvis Merzlikins ... Joining the lineup for this road trip is Buddy Robinson, older brother of Eric Robinson. Hopefully the brothers get to face each other on the ice, for the first time in their careers.

Season Series

12/09/2021 ANA @ CBJ
04/17/2021 CBJ @ ANA

Stats

Anaheim Columbus
3.26 (10) GPG 3.25 (11)
2.78 (13) GAPG 3.33 (26)
26.7% (4) PP% 21.0% (11)
85.9% (4) PK% 81.8% (14)
48.7% (20) 5v5 Shot Attempt % 48.0% (23)
49.1% (19) 5v5 Unblocked shot attempt % 47.2% (25)
8.4 (9) 5v5 Shooting % 8.7 (8)
.922 (18) 5v5 Save % .909 (26)
Troy Terry, 15 G Leader Boone Jenner, 11
Ryan Getzlaf, 19 A Leader Jakub Voracek, 19
Troy Terry, 26 P Leader Oliver BJORKSTRAND, 21
Josh Manson, 37 PIM Leader Cole Sillinger, 19
5-4-3 Home / Road 9-3-0
4-4-2 Last 10 4-6-0

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
Gus Nyquist Boone Jenner Oliver BJORKSTRAND
Max Domi Jack Roslovic Jakub Voracek
Eric Robinson Sean Kuraly Alexandre Texier
Justin Danforth Cole Sillinger Emil Bemstrom
Zach Werenski Jake Bean
Vladislav Gavrikov Andrew Peeke
Gabriel Carlsson Adam Boqvist
Elvis Merzlikins
Daniil Tarasov
Anaheim Ducks
Sonny Milano Trevor Zegras Rickard Rakell
Vinni Lettieri Sam Steel Troy Terry
Derek Grant Isac Lundestrom Jakob Silfverberg
Nicolas Deslauriers Sam Carrick Buddy Robinson
Hampus Lindholm Jamie Drysdale
Cam Fowler Josh Manson
Simon Benoit Kevin Shattenkirk
John Gibson
Anthony Stolarz