Ducks prepare to take on the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning

Two-thirds of the envisioned top line are on the mend, but the Ducks’ other key forwards are starting to pick up the slack.

A pair of Swedes — wingers and Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg — were slated to play together to open the season, but with so many players stricken by injuries, they’ve been split in the ever-changing lineup.

Rakell’s transition to center was short-lived and he’s back on the wing, but he’s still creating chances for his linemates.

His three assists Thursday against Vancouver were a career high and Rakell also is riding a four-game point streak one season after he led the Ducks with 33 goals.

The former first-round pick’s 14 points are tops among Ducks players, and if he can continue the hot streak, perhaps the rest of the squad will catch fire.

He believes the Ducks (7-6-3, 17 points) are starting to play with confidence, and they’ll need it heading into a second season meeting Sunday with the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we have the potential to play with the puck,” said Rakell, 24. “We have some strong players and skilled players too. When we do that, I think we’re an effective team.”

The Ducks were a better possession team in the victory over the Canucks and outshot the opposition by 15. That was a welcome shift, with the Ducks struggling in that department (-3.2 shot differential.)

The strong play of Rakell and Silfverberg (who have both played in all 16 games) was a difference-maker, and if the Ducks can get the latter going, they’ll be a much more difficult team to account for.

Silfverberg finally broke out, with two goals in 35 seconds Thursday, and perhaps this is the confidence boost he needs.

“We know Silfvy’s been a goal scorer for our hockey club and I guess he’s had a little bit of a slow start, but he’s worked hard in other areas,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “Hopefully this is a springboard for him to take off into the season because we know he can score goals in the league.”

The 27-year-old scored at least 20 goals each of the last two seasons, and was one of the team’s top point producers with 49 points last campaign.

His two goals doubled his season output, but he hopes there’s plenty more where that came from.

“I’ve been feeling better and better as the games have been coming,” he said. “I’ve been having chances, just not managing to get the puck in.

“We’re trying to get more to the inside. We’ve been accepting a little bit too much about getting boxed out so it’s something we’ve been bringing up. They’re not all pretty. You score most goals from in tight.”

The Ducks roster is made up of skilled players, but they don’t have access to all their best scorers right now, so they must find a different way.

Carlyle admitted the team must play more of a “grind game.” Rakell and Silfverberg are being counted on to lead the way.

UP NEXT

VS. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

When: 5 p.m. PST, Sunday

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830

Update: Starting goalie John Gibson practiced Saturday after missing Thursday’s contest with a head injury. He should be ready to face the Lightning, but if he can’t go, it’ll be Reto Berra in net. Ryan Miller remains out with the lower-body injury he suffered Thursday. So does winger Ondrej Kase, who suffered a head injury in Tuesday’s loss to the Kings. … The Ducks topped the Lightning 4-1 last month on the road in the team’s best performance of the season. It was one of only two regulation losses this year for Tampa Bay, which leads the NHL with 28 points. … The Lightning are on a three-game winning streak.

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