CHICAGO -- Without veteran defenseman Sheldon Souray, the Ducks have still surged to the NHL’s best record, winning a record-tying 18 of 19 games with goalie Jonas Hiller winning 14 straight.
Yet, news Thursday that Souray, 37, was to undergo surgery Friday on the torn right wrist tendon he suffered in preseason conditioning and miss the remainder of the season deprives the Ducks of an experienced on-ice leader as the games increase in intensity and significance.
“It’s a big blow as far as we were expecting him back,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said Friday at United Center, where the Ducks (36-8-5) had their morning skate before Friday night’s game against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Ducks defenseman Bryan Allen, 33, who said he would return to play Friday night after missing five games with a lower body injury, said Souray’s absence from this point forward is “a huge loss.”
The Ducks still have Allen and fellow veterans Francois Beauchemin and Ben Lovejoy on the blue line, but U.S. Olympian Cam Fowler, 22, Sami Vatanen, 22, and Hampus Lindholm, 19, have never won a playoff series.
Souray “was a great presence not only on the ice, but off the ice with a great demeanor. He’s a guy you can’t replace and going forward, it’s going to hurt us, but we do have young guys who’ve come in and fill the role as defensemen.”
The energy and production of the young defensemen has impressed, and their vigor is achieving historical success.
“They come in, work hard, get here early, they’re prepared, and they watch how the veteran guys take care of themselves for the grind of the 82-game season and beyond,” Allen said.
Allen said that if Souray was to remain around the dressing room, “it’d only be a positive,” even if he’s disappointed not to be playing for the NHL’s top team now.
“He was in so much pain … we wanted to make sure he stayed healthy for the rest of his life,” Boudreau said.
HILLER FIRST OFF ICE: After missing Wednesday’s game with the flu, Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller has skated at the team’s last two practices and was first off the ice Friday, indicating he’ll start with a 14-game winning streak on the line.
Boston’s Gilles Gilbert won an NHL-record 17 straight in 1975-76, and no one else has won 15 consecutive.
ROSTER MOVES: With Hiller back to health, the Ducks moved rookie goalie John Gibson back to minor-league Norfolk without using him during his three-game stay. Boudreau said defenseman Luca Sbisa, out 24 games with a torn right hand tendon, went to Norfolk for a conditioning stint.
IMPORTANCE OF ONE: Boudreau said he doesn’t talk to the Ducks about the importance of being the Western Conference No. 1 seed after squandering that spot in 2009-10 while coaching Washington.
“I’ve been there and still never won a Cup, so I don’t think the importance is great,” Boudreau said, with Chicago six points behind the Ducks. “L.A. won two years ago being eighth .… We want to win every game and look at every game
individually, but it doesn’t matter, as long as we’re in the top eight.”
Ducks center Mathieu Perreault, who played on the Boudreau Capitals’ team, said, “It’s not the focus. We want to play well and win games, get secondary scoring, have the defense step up, the goalie dominate. We’re doing a good job with that.
“It’s a goal we can achieve, but at the end of the day, it’s the Stanley Cup we want.”
The Ducks’ current 18-1 run started Dec. 6 with this same set of back-to-back road games at Chicago and St. Louis.
“It certainly makes you play your best hockey,” Boudreau said. “It got us playing
on a level, we knew we had to stay up there to succeed.”
Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville said Friday he anticipates the test.
“They’re fast, good skaters, work well together and protect the puck,” said Quenneville, whose team hasn’t beaten the Ducks in five straight games dating to December 2011.
Quenneville said it’s critical to always know where Corey Perry is on the ice. The Ducks’ forward has 27 goals and 26 assists this season.
“They’re on an amazing stretch, it shows you how good they are,” Quenneville said. “Every game was tough with them. We just couldn’t close out on them, but we felt good about ourselves, and we did a lot of right things in those games .… It could be our biggest test to date."
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