The Anaheim Ducks were hit with a dose of bad news Wednesday—the team announced that an MRI revealed defenseman Cam Fowler will miss three to five weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
It's a tough blow for the Ducks, who will have to hold off the hard-charging San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division without their best defenseman. If Fowler's recovery requires the full five weeks, he may not be around for the first round of the postseason.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Ducks and Sharks are tied with 97 points, but the Ducks hold the top spot in the division because they have played one fewer game than the Sharks. There is no divisional race in the league that carries anywhere near the importance of this Ducks-Sharks battle, as the loser will draw the Los Angeles Kings in the first round; the winner will get a wild-card team, which is likely to be the Minnesota Wild, Phoenix Coyotes or Dallas Stars.
A three-week absence by Fowler could be the difference between a far easier first-round matchup that catapults the Ducks to a Stanley Cup and a deadly first-round matchup that sends the Ducks home early for a second straight season.
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are the headline grabbers in Anaheim, but Fowler could be the most valuable player for the Ducks this season.
Fowler has 36 points (six goals) in 67 games, fourth most on the Ducks and the most among their defensemen. He averages nearly 24 minutes per game, most on the team, and is a key facet on both the power play and the penalty kill. The 22-year-old is the rare offensive defenseman who can handle businesses in his own end, and even with Stephane Robidas now in the fold, there's just no replacing someone of Fowler's caliber.
When it comes time to line up against the opponent's best players, it's usually Fowler who draws the assignment. According to Extra Skater, Fowler and Ben Lovejoy face the toughest competition among Ducks defensemen. He's fourth on the team in defensive zone starts, but he's far from being a sheltered defenseman.
The loss of Fowler also comes at a time when the Ducks are scuffling something awful on the power play. They are 1-of-34 with the extra man since returning from the Olympic break and 4-3-2 overall in those games. The penalty kill has also been a disaster as of late, allowing eight goals in 20 chances over the past six games.
With two pivotal matchups against the Sharks, over the final three weeks, including a game in San Jose on Thursday, the loss of Fowler could be devastating.
The news on Fowler could have been far worse, and it's not as though the Ducks are on the fringe of the playoff chase. But elite teams that fancy themselves Stanley Cup contenders need a bit of luck when it comes to injuries, and this is bad luck for the Ducks right now.
If the Ducks find themselves shaking hands after a five-game loss to the Kings in April, the loss could be traced back to Fowler's injury.