Now that the Ducks are close to full strength, they can begin to develop some chemistry.
Of course, Corey Perry still needs to return from a lower-body injury and reoccupy his rightful place on the top line.
But with No. 2 center Ryan Kesler back in the lineup, the Ducks are the healthiest they’ve been all season. The only other player missing in action is Patrick Eaves, who is battling Guillain-Barre syndrome and isn’t expected to return this season.
The Ducks can now start to develop some chemistry together. They started that process Wednesday in Kesler’s first game back But after a strong first period, the energy levels fell off a cliff, and coach Randy Carlyle called the performance a “stinker.”
That wasn’t the case Friday when the Ducks handled the Flames. The power play was firing on all cylinders, with Ryan Getzlaf, Cam Fowler and Rickard Rakell creating havoc on the man advantage.
Their possession game was strong, the passes were more crisp and the defense was able to shut down the formidable duo of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
Suddenly, the Ducks look like a different squad, and they should only improve as they collect more games together with the same lineup.
“I think (lineup stability) makes a big difference,” Fowler said. “Obviously, with the injuries we’ve had, it’s been difficult, but that’s no excuse. We still had a lot of talent and capability in here.
“But we certainly are not playing up to our standards. Now we have some key guys back and it certainly makes it a little bit easier on us and we’re starting to find our stride a little bit.”
One man who has already hit his stride is Rakell, the 24-year-old Swede who led the Ducks in goals last season with 33. His 12 goals this campaign also are tops, and he’s found the back of the net in each of the last four games.
Rakell started the season as a center after making the switch over from wing during the summer. But after a short experiment, he was back to the wing.
He’s now playing on the top line alongside Getzlaf, and the two are clicking. Both players had two-point nights Friday, and Getzlaf has piled up 11 points in nine games since returning from a fractured cheekbone.
The captain said he believes he’s “more or less” back to 100% after shaking the rust off of 24 games on the sideline, and if he isn’t at the top of his game yet, that’s a scary thought.
“At the start, it was a little bit of a learning curve and getting back into the groove of things,” he said, “but I’ve been feeling better.”
Getzlaf was happy with the way the team created space and got rid of the puck quickly. On one such play, he found Rakell off the faceoff draw, and Rackell fired a wrister for the game-winning goal.
The Ducks have real depth now on both offense and defense. Derek Grant, who at one point was forced to play top-line center, has been a healthy scratch the past two games.
“I feel like we have four good lines in here, lines that can make plays and make it difficult on other teams,” said Fowler, who believes the team has really improved its forechecking game.
“When we’re moving our feet, that’s when we’re at our best. We have a lot of skill and guys who can certainly put the puck in the net.”
DUCKS UP NEXT
VS. ARIZONA COYOTES
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
On the air: TV: Fox Sports West; Radio: 830
Update: The New Year’s Eve matinee is the first game against the Coyotes since they met in the season opener. That game also was at Honda Center, with the Ducks kicking off the campaign with a 5-4 victory. Since then, the Coyotes’ fortunes have only dissolved, with the team winning just nine games. Their 23 points place the Coyotes in last place in the NHL. … Defenseman Andy Welinski, who made his NHL debut earlier this month, was sent back to the minors Saturday.