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Column: A goal lifts a weight off Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks

Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf (15) unleashes a shot past sliding Kings defenseman Alec Martinez for a goal in the first period.

Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf (15) unleashes a shot past sliding Kings defenseman Alec Martinez for a goal in the first period.

(Harry How / Getty Images)

Until Thursday, Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf had scored as many even-strength goals this season as had fans who paid to enter the building and wondered what had happened to the prolific center who dominated games with his size, strength and setup skills.

His production through his first 44 games consisted of one goal into an empty net in November and two power-play goals in late December, a shockingly low number for an elite center who had tied for third in even-strength scoring in the NHL last season. Equally baffling, he became prone to making blind, backhand passes that cost the Ducks goals and games. He insisted that he was fine other than the appendectomy that kept him out of four games in late October and early November, and that there was nothing that could explain his woes.

“We were struggling as a group, and when I struggle it magnifies everything,” Getzlaf said after he scored his first even-strength goal this season to get the Ducks’ offense rolling Thursday and set up their second goal in a 4-2 victory over the Kings at Staples Center. “I just tried to maintain and play better hockey and get myself out of it.”

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Getzlaf has always been more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, to the dismay of probably every coach he has played for and has seen the nasty shot he owns but so often seems reluctant to unleash. And on the two-on-rush he had with David Perron on Thursday, Getzlaf acknowledged his instincts made him think to pass instead of shoot. Apparently, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick had the same idea.

“A lot of me did,” Getzlaf said when asked how much of him thought to pass to Perron. “I’m pretty sure that’s why Quick was leaning all the way over there. It was nice to actually rip one and put it past him.”

Getzlaf’s lack of goal scoring over his first 35 games was baffling, and it became Exhibit A in every list of why the Ducks were struggling. So if his yell was especially loud and his celebration unusually exuberant Thursday, it was because a huge weight had been lifted off him and a team that has won five straight games and looks more like the powerhouse it was supposed to be.

“They feel good. When you only get a few, every one feels good whether it’s even-strength or not,” said Getzlaf, whose setup of Perron gave him 500 career assists. “We played better as a group and our line was effective early, and it felt good.”

Getzlaf has meshed well with Perron and with beefy winger Chris Stewart, allowing the Ducks to spread out their scoring and put right wing Corey Perry — Getzlaf’s longtime sidekick — on another line with Rickard Rakell and Patrick Maroon. Getzlaf said their chemistry with Perron might be explained by Perron’s similarities to Perry and by Stewart’s willingness to use his muscle effectively.

“He’s a puck handler. He hangs onto the puck. He’s strong on it. He plays a lot like Pears, to tell you the truth,” Getzlaf said. “They’re both kinds of pests out there and tough on the puck and we’ve got Stewie skating and getting us the puck.”

On Getzlaf’s ice-breaking even-strength goal, only Kings defenseman Alec Martinez was back when Getzlaf lifted a shot that might have deflected off Martinez before it eluded Quick at 8:59 of the first period. Getzlaf returned the favor at 13:19, passing the puck to Perron and getting lucky when the puck glanced off Perron’s foot and into the net. His 500th assist came in his 755th career game; it also continued a scoring surge that has reached one goal and 11 points in his last 10 games.

“I feel better with the puck. Basically since Christmas it’s felt a lot better,” he said. “The puck’s not going in the net but our line’s been effective and we’re getting things done and guys are putting goals in the net.”

Perhaps more important, the Ducks are keeping the puck out of their own net more often. If Getzlaf can chip in more than the occasional goal, they should succeed in their quest to overcome a terrible start and make the playoffs.

“I don’t know if we’re at the top yet, but we’re playing a lot better hockey. We’ve just got to continue along the same path. When we weren’t scoring goals we were tightening things up defensively and found ways to win games, and we’ve got to stick with that mentality when they’re going in as well.”

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter: @helenenothelen


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