The Anaheim Ducks added two big points in the standings Sunday night, but the two stars they lost to injury —especially the one in net — are even bigger.
Not even 24 hours later on Monday afternoon, the club announced that their smooth-skating minute-muncher Cam Fowler would miss he next two to six weeks, while Vezina Trophy candidate John Gibson was announced day-to-day, both with upper-body injuries.
There’s really no way to sugar-coat it: both injuries are consecutive gut punches to this team’s post-season aspirations. A playoff berth is all but assured, but that’s just about where the assurances end.
Anaheim has been through this drill with Gibson all season long, freak collisions sending their star netminder to the trainers’ room far more often than they would like. The latest collision featured Ryan Kesler cross-checking Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog into Gibson, forcing the Ducks’ goaltender out of the game.
Ryan Kesler on the play where John Gibson was injured: “[Landeskog] threw himself at Gibby. I gave him a slight jab and he knows what he’s doing there, obviously.” That’s how I saw it, too #NHLDucks— Mike Coppinger (@MikeCoppinger) April 2, 2018
The rather tame day-to-day prognosis — although clearly hurting Anaheim’s ability to obtain a cushier spot in the standings — can only be seen as a win for head coach Randy Carlyle’s squad. Gibson’s play has been intrinsically tied to the Ducks’ success all season long, making it impossible to overstate his importance to this club.
Of all goalies currently in the running for the Vezina, Gibson has had the lowest expected save percentage, meaning he’s faced the most daunting array of shots and chances against. He’s bulldozed his expected number, turning aside dangerous shot after dangerous shot.
The 24-year old elevated an injury-plagued team early in the season, while pushing it through defensive struggles in the latter half. With all due respect to Ryan Miller, Anaheim doesn’t stand much of a chance against any potential playoff opponent without their prized gatekeeper.
On the topic of Miller: he’s more than capable of manning the net for the last week of the regular season. The only snag: Anaheim ends the 2017-18 campaign with a back-to-back, facing the Dallas Stars Friday night at Honda Center, and then closing things out less than 24 hours later at the Gila River Arena in Arizona.
There’s a very good chance those games help decide Anaheim’s seeding. Can Randy Carlyle trust Miller to play in both of those games, or might he be backed up into throwing emergency call-up Reto Berra into the fire? The calculus here is simple: a ready and able John Gibson is far more paramount to Anaheim’s chances than a slightly more favorable matchup. Rest should be the priority here, as it could very much be the difference between an extended run, or a far less savory extended summer.