3 Takeaways From Ducks’ Loss to the Wild: 4th Line, Power Play & Rakell

The Anaheim Ducks fell to 2-3-1 on the season after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild. The loss marks the team’s third in a row, but there are improving trends within the Ducks’ performance that continued in defeat. The power play is generating offense and Rickard Rakell has been one of the primary beneficiaries. However, the roster is still a work in progress and the fourth line is in need of an overhaul.

Power Play Stays Hot

The Ducks recorded their sixth power-play goal of the season in the second period when Rakell tipped a point shot from Jamie Drysdale that snuck between Cam Talbot’s glove and body and into the net. The Ducks’ power play this season has seen an immediate improvement after switching to a four-forward unit. On the ice for the Rakell goal was Drysdale as the lone defenseman, along with Trevor Zegras, Max Comtois, and Ryan Getzlaf.

Though it is tempting to write off a six-game sample size as too small, the Ducks’ 4.21 expected goals (xG) currently ranks fifth in the NHL. Even if some level regression occurs, it is important to remember that this is a team that only scored 11 power-play goals all of last season. The four-forward look on the power play has been adopted by a lot of other forward-thinking organizations, and the Ducks finally have the roster talent to pull it off. Cross-ice passes between Getzlaf and Zegras force opposing goaltenders to move across their crease, creating shooting lanes and opportunities, something the Ducks couldn’t do a season ago.

Rakell Returns to Form

Rakell finished the night with two goals, bringing his season total to a team-leading four. Even in his past 30-goal seasons, he has been known to be a streaky shooter, but the hot start is a good indication that he is poised to reach that 30-goal plateau once again. Rakell last hit that mark with 34 goals in 2017-18 — the last season the Ducks made the playoffs.

Rickard Rakell Anaheim Ducks
Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As an upcoming unrestricted free agent, his scoring ability will be coveted by teams with Stanley Cup aspirations. Whether or not the return would be enough to move him solely rests in the opinion of general manager Bob Murray, who hasn’t been especially willing to trade his veterans during this rebuild. If the Ducks continue to overperform, Murray will have to weigh the risk of pulling out of a playoff race to sell or to potentially lose Rakell in free agency with no returning assets.

Fourth Line Bottoms Out

Derek Grant, Nic Deslauriers, and Bo Groulx were only credited with 4:01 of ice time together as a fourth line. In those minutes, the group allowed a goal and an additional scoring chance. Head coach Dallas Eakins appears to only trust Grant and Groulx in penalty-killing situations, with Deslauriers bouncing between lines while recently benched Max Comtois was receiving additional discipline tonight. Earlier this week, I made the case for Sam Carrick to start in place of the injured Max Jones, but it seems likely that Carrick slots in for Groulx, who can be sent down to San Diego without needing to clear waivers.

Derek Grant Anaheim Ducks
Derek Grant, Anaheim Ducks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The fourth line is a work in progress, and the Ducks should embrace that. While the team is still trying to find an identity, the fourth line can be looked at like an audition stage. Call-ups from San Diego like Carrick or Sonny Milano should be given the chance to make more regular appearances in the lineup. What can’t continue is asking the top three lines to carry the bulk of the weight at 5-on-5 because one line is getting hemmed in defensively.

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Looking Forward

Last night’s loss to the Wild marks the end of a four-game road trip in which the Ducks gained three points in the standings. They return to the Honda Center for two games against the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres, before a quick trip to Vegas on Friday. Look for the power-play success to continue at home, as the Ducks have already scored three goals against the Jets when given the man advantage.

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