NASHVILLE -- Luca Sbisa said that the Anaheim Ducks' game against the Nashville Predators on Saturday night was "the biggest game of the year so far."
"We're not happy with how things are going," the Ducks defenseman said following the team's Saturday morning skate at Bridgestone Arena. "Statement game for us. We're hearing people saying we've shut it down before the break. We want to show them that's not the case."
The Ducks (40-14-5) will lead the Western Conference at the Olympic break that starts Sunday regardless of the outcome against the Predators, but with three consecutive losses and a 4-6 mark in their last 10 games, they want to wash this bad taste away before the extended layoff.
"Certainly when you have a break as long as ours, you want to go in on a win," Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said before playing the last-place Predators (25-23-10). "We don't want to hear for the next 23 [days] that we're on this losing streak."
Boudreau said his message to the team was a reminder of the fortitude they've shown in coming from behind to win a league-best 16 games.
"They've shown great character all year, come back all year," he said. "I've told them after numerous games, 'Character carried us through.' And that's what we want to see today: character carry us through. A lot of people out there think we're OK to limp into the break. That's not true. We want to go in on a good win in a great game."
BONINO UPDATE: For a third consecutive session, center Nick Bonino (right wrist) skated Saturday morning after missing his third game (all losses). Boudreau was noncommittal about whether Bonino (16 goals, 24 assists) would play Saturday night, saying he's "very close to playing. Is it worth it for one game or not? We'll make the determination tonight. He's going to be fine."
The team definitely has missed him.
"He's a good piece of the puzzle," Boudreau said. "When he's not out there, there's a lot of maneuvering we have to do that we don't like doing, but injuries are part of the sport."
HILLER FIRST OFF: Goalie Jonas Hiller (24-9-4) was first off the ice, indicating he'll start against Nashville.
Hiller, from Switzerland, is one of seven Ducks who'll play in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
FATAL FLAW? Both Sbisa and fellow defenseman Hampus Lindholm insist the opposition has not unearthed an Achilles' heel on the Ducks that has led to the recent rash of losses.
"It's not a weakness like we leave the slot open or that our neutral zone is not tight enough," Sbisa said. "Combined, the effort has not been there.
"Then it was [Wednesday] against Chicago and we still lost. That was our first step to getting back, and if we have the same effort we had against Chicago, I think we're looking at a good chance to win the game."
Rookie Lindholm, 20, said he felt fine physically, and that the team was just enduring a normal rough patch over the 82-game haul.
"It's not often you see a team lose just one of 10," Lindholm said. "There's always going to be a time like this where you lose four of 10. We just need to work on the little things, and it's OK for this to happen in the middle of the season.
"This is not when we want to be our best. We want to be our best when the playoffs start. Good to go through, and feel how it feels, see how you react. But I think we'll come out strong tonight."