By Eric Stephens The Orange County Register
Building lasting momentum is something the Ducks hadn’t done much of this season as they turned the page on 2017 but, at least on the calendar’s final day, that box was finally checked.
Facing the basement-dwelling Arizona Coyotes in a New Year’s Eve matinee, Cam Fowler snapped a third-period tie with 8:09 remaining and Jakob Silfverberg added an insurance goal Sunday as the Ducks scored three times to pull away for a 5-2 win at Honda Center.
Getting the puck in the high slot with just Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta to beat in a 2-2 game, Fowler did so with a rising shot that hit the crossbar and banked in. Even though he also scored Friday against Calgary, the Ducks’ defenseman thought he could have put away other good looks.
“Obviously it’s a prime scoring area,” Fowler said. “I felt like last game, I had good chances. I didn’t feel like I made the most out of them. I kind of gave them away and just quickly got it on net instead of really trying to bear down.
“So I just focused on bearing down tonight and trying to put it through him instead of just picking a spot. I was happy to see it go in.”
Silfverberg made it a two-goal lead with 2:47 remaining and Antoine Vermette added an empty-net goal to finish off a three-point night. Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf each had two assists. In Kesler’s case, those were his first two points in his third game back from major hip surgery.
Rickard Rakell scored twice to stay in a blistering state while John Gibson made 23 saves as the Ducks won for the fourth time in five games to cap a three-game homestand. They’re now off to western Canada to continue their stretch of seven straight games against the Pacific Division.
“We know that we have to start stringing together some wins right now,” Fowler said. “Trying to bank as many points as we can. We’re a team that once we start doing things the right way and we see some of the results happening, we feel like we can compete with anybody.
“These last two games at home were very important for us before going out on a tough western road trip. So hopefully we can carry some of that momentum along with us.”
The Ducks (18-14-8) are making a habit of starting fast. They’ve scored first in five straight games, with all coming no later than eight minutes elapsed in the first. Rakell jumped out again, as he did just 1:40 into their game Wednesday against Vegas.
Good fortune often interjects itself into a player that is hot. Just four minutes in, Rakell got free and put a shot on goal that Raanta stopped. The puck bounced right back and struck the skate of Coyotes star defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson as he defended Rakell, ricocheting into the net.
“What we try to do is we try to make sure that we have a starting point,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “You have no starting point if you have a poor first period. Then you’re going to play catch-up. We don’t want to play catch-up if we don’t have to.
“We feel if we can get off the mark and get attacking, then we have a hockey club that can be dangerous.”
That made goals in a career-high five straight games for Rakell. He didn’t do that in his 33-goal season of a year ago, coming close with seven goals in nine games during one stretch and five in six of scorching run.
But this wasn’t as clean of an effort by the Ducks. Sloppy at times in their own zone against the NHL’s worst team, it would hurt them midway through the period.
Arizona tied it on a power play created when the Ducks were caught with too many men on the ice. Francois Beauchemin failed to clear the puck down the ice, with Coyotes defenseman Alex Goligoski intercepting it and giving the puck to Brendan Perlini.
Perlini operated behind a screen provided by Beauchemin and Arizona’s Christian Dvorak. His hard wrist shot went in on Gibson’s short side for a 1-1 tie as the goalie couldn’t pick up the puck until it was too late.
The Ducks didn’t hang their heads for long. Rakell wouldn’t let them. The winger found a soft spot in the offensive end and whacked in Getzlaf’s pass for a no-doubt score and another lead just 43 seconds later, pushing
his team-leading goal total to 14.
“I’m just trying to find open ice,” Rakell said. “When we have control, Getzy’s very good at creating time for myself to make a good play. Vermy is a good passer as well. I thought we had some good chances today. Hopefully we can just keep going.”
An inability to get the puck out of their zone struck again on another penalty kill. The Ducks got Getzlaf back on the ice after a short two-man disadvantage but Arizona rookie Clayton Keller forged another tie, cashing in Chris Wagner’s goaltender interference penalty as Adam Henrique couldn’t clear the puck.
Unlike other times where games got away from them late, the Ducks redoubled their efforts and put away their opponent.
“The one thing I like is once we got the goal to make it 3-2, we didn’t sit back,” Fowler said. “We kept pushing, kept our foot on the gas. That’s what you have to do. The moment you sit back, teams are (too) good now. You’ll be receiving and that’s when you get in some trouble.”
The sellout crowd got to see and applaud Patrick Eaves as the winger attended a game for the first time since having to deal with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a muscle-weakening autoimmune disorder diagnosed in mid-October. Teammates also met up with him afterward.
Eaves is going through physical therapy and there is no update on whether he’ll be able to resume his season or his career.
“It’s always good to see a teammate,” Carlyle said. “He’s definitely been a part of our group and we haven’t forgot about him. It’s hard when the guy is dealing with what he’s dealing with.
“We’re going to let him and his family take their time. They need to do what they need to do with what’s best for him going forward in his life.”
Derek Grant, who has filled in nicely with a career-high seven goals and 15 points, got back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for two games.
Rookie winger Kevin Roy sat out as Carlyle shuffled his forward lines moved Vermette up onto the top line with Getzlaf and Rakell while putting the shutdown trio of Kesler, Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano back together as a full unit.
The Ducks were dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 41 of 60 draws. Vermette won 13 of 18, while Kesler took 12 of 17 and Henrique claimed eight of 12. ... Ekman-Larsson was a minus-3 and now has a minus-32 rating for the Coyotes. ... Kesler played in his 900th NHL game.
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