ANAHEIM – Injuries continue to change the look and shape of the Ducks’ defense corps, with one regular not playing Game 2 of their best-of-7 second-round series against Edmonton and another potentially coming back in.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle ruled out Kevin Bieksa for Friday night’s contest. Bieksa left the game for good in the second period of Game 1 with an unspecified lower-body injury. The veteran missed only one game during the regular season but appeared to suffer a leg ailment when he collided with teammate Shea Theodore as they were defending in the first period.
Carlyle said Bieksa could return “late in the series” but that dose of bad news was offset by the possibility of Sami Vatanen making his first appearance since Game 1 of the opening round against Calgary. Vatanen has been dealing with an upper-body injury.
“It’s always nice when your players are very, very close to coming back,” Carlyle said. “And it gives you an option to add a player of that caliber into your lineup.”
Vatanen was a late scratch in Game 2 against the Flames and hasn’t been in the lineup since. Normally good-natured, the Ducks’ defender sounded particularly upbeat after practice Thursday and was in the locker room early Friday after an optional morning skate.
“It’s not fun to sit in the press box there and eat popcorn,” Vatanen said. “We always want to play. I’m really close so I’m very happy about that. Of course, there’s that fine line. What it is it’s whether you can help the team to win. I think that’s the main thing.
“If you’re not ready to play there and help the team win, I don’t think you should play.”
During the season, Vatanen averaged more than 21 minutes a night and is one that can play on either of the two power-play units as well as kill penalties.
“It’s a huge addition,” Theodore said. “He’s a great defenseman. We know he’s ready to go. He’s been shooting the puck real hard the past couple of days so it’s good to see.”
If Vatanen does play, it is likely that he could jump into Bieksa’s spot alongside Theodore and keep the Cam Fowler-Brandon Montour and Hampus Lindholm-Josh Manson pairings together. Another option would be Korbinian Holzer if it’s determined that Vatanen isn’t yet ready.
“I feel like we’ve been kind of rotating in and out through most of the year,” Theodore said. “I feel like anybody can play with anybody and we’ve been pretty solid.”
The Ducks did get Fowler back for Game 1 against the Oilers. After missing the entire first round because of a knee injury, Fowler played a team-high 26 minutes, 33 seconds. He also finished with a minus-2 rating on his even-strength shifts and was on the ice for all of the Oilers’ goals in the 5-3 defeat.
“We didn’t ease him back into the lineup that’s for sure,” Carlyle said. “I thought his performance was actually very good for missing the time that he’s missed. He stepped right back in and it…