Slowly but surely, Corey Perry is beginning to resemble the No. 10 that Ducks fans are used to watching light the lamp with gusto.
For more than 12 years, Perry has been counted on to lead the Ducks offense. Only last season, that player was missing in action, with just 19 goals to his name (he once led the league with 50).
He was easy to find in Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Boston Bruins before 15,089 at Honda Center, even though he didn’t score any goals.
What he did was send the puck to the net, and he was credited with two assists on plays he created out of thin air.
“I’m starting to feel more confident with the puck,” said Perry, who has nine assists and 12 points this season. “Early on, I was getting rid of the puck a little too soon. I can hold on to it and make plays.”
Perry’s puck control around the net has been a boon for the club, but it’s also a matter of continuity with the ever-changing lineup.
Longtime minor leaguer Derek Grant is now centering Rickard Rakell and Perry on the top line in Ryan Getzlaf’s stead, and only now is Perry “starting to learn … how Derek plays. He’s a great player, he makes plays and he sees the ice very well.”
A nifty between-the-legs deke helped Perry whiz by the Bruins defense and around goalie Tukka Rask. The winger lost control of the puck, but Josh Manson corralled it and a wide-angle attempt caromed off Zdeno Chara’s skate for the team’s second goal.
Later, it was more vintage Perry. A wrister from the high slot directed short side tipped off Grant’s body for a third score.
And Perry wasn’t finished creating opportunities, with several more crisp passes in the offensive zone to set up linemates Grant and Rakell.
For once, the Ducks weren’t forced to resort to a grinding style to jump on the score sheet.
Sure, Kevin Roy’s first-period goal — the rookie’s first NHL point — was that kind of play, with the bouncing puck in the crease knocked in.
But there was also Nick Ritchie’s finish on the 2-on-1 pass from Antoine Vermette, who played in his 1,000th NHL contest.
The Ducks played a far more disciplined game too. They entered Wednesday with the league lead in penalty time with more than 128 minutes spent in the box (almost five minutes more than second place).
For the second consecutive outing, though, Ducks players entered the penalty box just twice.
“For the most part, our sticks were down, and we were playing hard on the end of those sticks,” said Perry. “That’s what you have to do. You can’t take penalties in this league. Teams are going to burn you.”
And again, John Gibson was stellar in what’s been a Vezina Trophy-type campaign. He made 39 saves on 41 shots, but none were more impressive than an acrobatic highlight-reel stop on Bruins center Riley Nash.
Gibson later stonewalled Nash on a clean breakaway after the Bruins center stole the puck from Manson.
The netminder has been the best player on the ice for the Ducks in pretty much every win this season.
It’s not fair to expect the 24-year-old to bail out the Ducks in every outing under a heavy siege of shots, but if Perry keeps playing like the scorer fans are used to, fortunes might soon change.