The Ducks' defense is about to regain its strongest piece, and the set is almost complete.
Defenseman Cam Fowler will be ready for Tuesday's game against San Jose, Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday. Fowler's return after sustaining a sprained knee comes as the Ducks begin their post-All-Star break drive, and it gives them nearly a full complement of defensemen.
Boudreau said that helps psychologically, particularly after Anaheim got defenseman Simon Despres back just before the break. He had missed 42 games because of a concussion.
"The more Despres plays, the more he'll get back to where his form was last year, and I think the other guys are playing pretty well," Boudreau said. "Our strength has been defensive hockey, not offensive hockey, so it can only help us."
Fowler was regarded as their top defenseman for much of the first three months, and he has assumed more of a leadership role as well. He said he benefited from the break and feels game ready nearly five weeks from the Dec. 27 injury.
It will be the first time since October that Anaheim will have Fowler and Despres available. Only Clayton Stoner is out, because of a hip injury.
"I think it's shows the depth of our team, with the people that we've had step in and play really big minutes for us, especially the young guys," Fowler said. "You can't really replace having your full six to seven D-corps back together and healthy. That's something that goes a long way, especially heading down the stretch that we're in now."
The Ducks went 9-3-1 without Fowler, and have allowed the fewest goals (109) in the Western Conference at the break.
Rookie Shea Theodore helped fill the void with quick puck moving and a knack for offense in his 13-game stint before he was reassigned. He appears to be a casualty of numbers with the Ducks carrying eight defensemen, including Stoner.
But the Ducks can recall Theodore at any time, and Boudreau said Theodore knows he belongs at the top level.
"If he ever doubted that he could play in the NHL, he's probably feeling a lot more confident over the last five games that he played," Boudreau said.
The Ducks jump into Pacific Division play with games against San Jose, the Kings and Arizona this week. The natural question was whether the break stunted their momentum.
"I thought they were really enthusiastic in practice [Monday], and I thought they had a lot of jump," Boudreau said. "I think they're anxious to get back at it too. You're concerned, but the proof will be in the pudding this week."
Stoner practiced but remains on injured reserve. Ryan Getzlaf missed practice because of a family matter, a team spokesman said. Corey Perry and John Gibson were given the day off as they returned from the All-Star game.
VS. SAN JOSE
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 830
Update: The Ducks have shut out the Sharks in two straight games, both by 1-0 scores, with Gibson and Anton Khudobin in net. The teams have combined for four goals in three games this season. Sharks center Joe Thornton had 15 points in 12 games in January. San Jose entered the break on an 8-0-2 run.