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The return of Scott Niedermayer has helped the Anaheim Ducks close out the 2007 calendar year on a strong note, but they have some work to do if 2008 is to be as memorable.
The defending Stanley Cup champions look to get off to a fast start in the new year when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.
Anaheim (19-17-5) finished with a franchise-best 110 points last season en route to winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. But the Ducks got off to a slow start to this season as goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere missed the first six games due to a hernia, and defenseman Scott Niedermayer considered retirement.
In 28 starts, Giguere has 15 wins - well down from his 36 last season - and is still rounding into form, but Niedermayer's addition has lifted the entire team. The Ducks are 4-2-1 since the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner put off retirement and has moved the Ducks into eighth place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of St. Louis and Columbus (18-15-6).
The Ducks, though, lost to Vancouver 2-1 on Sunday, their second straight defeat following a season high-tying four-game winning streak.
One area Anaheim needs to address is penalties. The Ducks have been penalized a NHL-high 317 times - 60 more than the second-place Canucks.
"We are taking a few too many penalties at times," said Ryan Getzlaf, who scored his 14th goal Sunday. "We are an aggressive team, and we are a physical team. The more that we can check with our legs instead of our sticks the more we will benefit in the long run."
The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, have converted 5-of-19 power-play opportunities in their last four games, winning three of those contests.
"We're starting to win the special teams game and that's the game within the game," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said after Monday's 4-2 victory over Edmonton. "When you win the special teams game over the course of the season, you're going to win hockey games."
The Ducks have won two of three over the Blue Jackets this season, including a 2-1 shootout victory at the Honda Center on Nov. 1.
Columbus, which is a NHL-worst 2-7-2 on the road since losing in Anaheim, will play four straight and nine of its next 12 away from home.
Giguere has been in net for both wins against the Blue Jackets this season, recording a 1.88 goals-against average. He is 11-1-2 with a 1.67 GAA and two shutouts in his last 14 games against Columbus.
Columbus' Rick Nash snapped a season-high eight-game goal-scoring drought with his first hat trick of the season against the Oilers. Nash had two of his team-high 21 goals, and two assists in the Blue Jackets' season-opening 4-0 win over the Ducks on Oct. 5 but hasn't had a point in the other two matchups.
Pascal Leclaire had 26 saves versus Edmonton and has recorded one of his league-high seven shutouts with a 1.00 GAA during a personal three-game winning streak. Leclaire stopped 28 shots in the shutout win over the Ducks earlier this season.
Leclaire hasn't started a road game since Nov. 26 at Edmonton. He is 3-2-0 with a 2.03 GAA and two shutouts in six road starts
Backup Fredrik Norrena is just 2-7-2 with a 2.64 GAA on the road this season.