ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Marcus Pettersson came back here a winner in every way, but he wasn't about to finger-wag or run some figurative victory lap.
Instead, he went out to dinner last night with the Ducks' three Swedes -- Jakub Silfverberg, Pontus Aberg and Jacob Larsson -- reuniting their clique from his couple years here in California, and he spoke only in platitudes of the place.
As he told me Friday morning before the Penguins took to the ice, "I don't think I really think about it like that. It's just good to be back here. It felt like just yesterday I was here. It's great to be back and see everyone."
Not exactly the troublemaking type.
Still, Pettersson's performance has caught the eye from afar of those he left behind following the Dec. 3 trade that sent him to Pittsburgh and Daniel Sprong to Anaheim. The latter has five goals, an assist and a minus-4 rating in the 15 games since the trade for the Ducks, who take a franchise-record nine-game losing streak into this meeting tonight at the Honda Center. The former has just as many points -- six assists -- while posting a plus-12 rating and helping his team go 14-3-1.
I asked Randy Carlyle, the Ducks' coach and the only Norris Trophy winner in Penguins history, his thoughts on Pettersson after the Anaheim skate:
He didn't sound surprised, did he?
Neither did anyone else in the building with whom I spoke. Although the broader sentiment here among Anaheim folk is that Pettersson's ceiling is as a third-pairing solidifier, there also was acknowledgement that the kid's only 22 and seeing second-unit power-play duty, so there's room for growth.
Jim Rutherford, the man who acquired him, told me he did so with plenty of help.
"We've had our eye on Pettersson for a long time, and we had a lot of people take a look at him," he said. "We're very happy to have him."
The same's obviously true for Mike Sullivan, who's carved a hard place for Pettersson on the blue line, even as others rotate in and out of a deep chart.
"He's played extremely well for us," Sullivan said. "He helps us in so many areas. He's a good defender. He has good gaps. He's got a long stick. He's a mobile guy for as big as he is. He's hard to play against because he takes up a lot of space with his reach and mobility. And I think he's shown signs of helping us offensively. We've moved him into the second power play. He's done a real good job there. He helps us get out of our own end, makes a real good first pass, sees the ice. ... There are so many things he's done to help our defense corps become more complete."
Sullivan added that Pettersson's partner, Jack Johnson, has played a role — a point Pettersson would make himself.
"I think they've been good for each other," Sullivan said. "They've been a good pair."
"I've learned a lot from Jack," Pettersson said. "He's so easy to play with."
It's not like the Ducks have been disappointed with Sprong. If anything, his five goals in a 15-game span probably seem like even more to a team that's scored only a dozen through these nine losses.
"When you acquire a young player, you try to fit him in where his skill set and where we think he's going to progress to," Carlyle said. "That's what we've tried to do with Spronger. And in some situations, he's delivered. And in some other ones, he's had some struggles as far as putting the puck in the net. That just sits probably in tune with the rest of our team."
• The Penguins' expected lines/pairings tonight:
• And for the Ducks:
• Justin Schultz, defenseman, skated loosely on his own yesterday after practice in El Segundo, Calif., and he took to the ice in full gear for the first time after the skate today, staying on the rink nearly an hour along with Casey DeSmith, Juuso Riikola and Chad Ruhwedel.
• Patric Hornqvist, right winger, is out indefinitely with a concussion. He didn't accompany the team on the trip.
• Zach Aston-Reese, right winger, is out indefinitely with a broken left hand. He's on the trip.
• Matt Murray will start again. He's got an eight-game winning streak that includes a 1.24 goals-against average, .963 save percentage and two shutouts. That almost certainly means DeSmith will start tomorrow in Los Angeles.
• Whitehall's John Gibson will start for the Ducks.
• Jamie Oleksiak will be back in the Penguins' lineup, Riikola out.
• It was an unusually uptempo and involved optional skate, with only Phil Kessel and Brian Dumoulin exercising their options. And no one looked more uptempo than Evgeni Malkin, who's been telling me out here he's hellbent on breaking out in a big way. We'll see.
• I asked Sullivan about the Ducks, who've lost all nine games since a thorough 4-2 victory Dec. 17 in Pittsburgh:
• Also today, DeSmith signed a three-year extension.
• And Kris Letang was finally named an NHL All-Star.
THE OTHER SIDE
I put the same question to Carlyle from the counter perspective, given that it's got to be his last positive memory through this franchise-record losing streak.
"We did a lot of good things that night, and we finished some plays," he replied, stressing that the Ducks have scored only a dozen goals during the streak. "That's the big thing for us right now. We aren't getting many chances in close and, when we are, we're not putting them away. We did some of that in Pittsburgh."
"You have to start hard, stay together and focus on the details," Adam Henrique said. "It's been a tough go of late, but the only way we're going to get out of it is as a group. We have to be extra careful in the neutral zone. If you turn the puck over against those guys, they can make things happen."
Faceoff is at 10:08 p.m. The game tomorrow is at 10:38 p.m. at Staples Center. The team will be off Sunday.
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