Randy Carlyle continues to tinker with the lineup, and his latest move paid off in a hurry.
The Ducks coach bumped Antoine Vermette from fourth-line center to top-line left winger, and the veteran responded with his first three-point game in almost two years.
The team struck quickly for the third consecutive contest when Vermette found Rickard Rakell streaking to the net. The Ducks’ top goal scorer tapped the puck, which was easily deflected by Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta before it collided with the skate of all-star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and caromed into the net.
The goal at 4:02 of the opening period ensured Rakell’s scoring streak reached five games, and the Ducks prevailed over the league-worst Coyotes 5-2 on Sunday before a sellout crowd at Honda Center.
Rakell added a second first-period goal with a one-timer off a backhand pass from Ryan Getzlaf, who produced two assists and now has 13 points in nine games. The red-hot duo is powering the Ducks as they battle for precious points in a packed Western Conference race. And right now, it doesn’t appear teams have any answer for them.
“It’s a lot of fun [playing with them],” Vermette said. “They’re great players obviously, they make a lot of room, they’re patient with the puck. … I thought we read off each other pretty well filling lanes and making plays.”
The team as a whole made plenty of plays in the first and third periods, but the Ducks’ penalty kill almost cost them. The unit is usually one of the team’s strengths with an 83.2% kill rate, good for eighth place in the NHL.
But a pair of costly giveaways down one man threatened to push the game to overtime. First it was Francois Beauchemin, who failed to clear the puck and instead found Alex Goligoski’s tape. He immediately found Brendan Perlini, who wristed it past John Gibson to tie the score 1-1.
Then it was Adam Henrique, who was battling with a stickless Max Domi. The son of former NHL player Tie Domi kept the puck alive with his skates and Derek Stepan collected it. His point blast was deflected by Calder Trophy candidate Clayton Keller to again tie the score 2-2 with about 13 minutes left in regulation.
“The first one, in desperation, we understand those things happen, it’s not like the individual was weak on the play, he was just trying to clear the puck,” Carlyle said. “The second one, I would say we were a little more soft than we should have been, we were above the puck, we should have been harder and stronger on that puck for sure.”
It didn’t matter, as the Ducks found a late-scoring surge, led by Cam Fowler and Jakob Silfverberg, to salt the final game of 2017.
Five minutes after the Coyotes tied it, Silfverberg won a board battle and dished it out to a Fowler, all alone in front, who wristed it in.
Minutes later, they were at it again. Silfverberg streaked into the zone, stole the bouncing puck from Luke Schenn, split Stepan and then potted the Ducks’ fourth goal. Vermette later added an empty netter.
It was the Ducks’ fourth win in five games, and they sit in the final wild-card spot as they prepare to embark on a three-game road swing against Pacific Division opponents. The bye week follows, and by then, just maybe Carlyle will have found his perfect lineup.
Perry close to return
All-star wingerCorey Perry has been sidelined for the past nine games because of a lower-body injury, but his return is “around the corner,” according to Carlyle.