By Stu Hackel
The Capitals’ surprise announcement on Monday that Alex Ovechkin would be sidelined for the next week-to-10 days while he heals from an undisclosed ailment (perhaps the dreaded “upper body injury” to his lower body) was followed on Tuesday with word that the Kings have lost winger Justin Williams for 3-4 weeks with a separated shoulder. The word on Ovie came a day after the Blackhawks said that top center Patrick Sharp would be out with a knee problem.
The injury parade in the NHL, especially to so many important players, has never seemed as long. At this stage of the season, some of these absences either have already had, or will have, an impact on the stretch drive and into the playoffs.
As with Ovechkin, some clubs seem intent on resting key players who have some knocks and dings so that they’re in better shape for the playoffs. Those teams feel they’re already safe in their playoff positions and are looking ahead to the spring tournament. Others don’t have that luxury and may not have some key players at 100 percent when the postseason starts.
Here’s a look at the teams that are still in the Western Conference playoff picture and how their current injury situation affects their chances. (Click here for the Eastern Conference.)
Anaheim Ducks: They’re mostly healthy aside from goalie Jonas Hiller, who has been sidelined for all but one game since Feb. 5 with dizziness, lightheadedness and vertigo. He has been activated and says he’s “pretty close” to returning to game action. Hiller dressed as Ray Emery’s backup for Wednesday night’s game vs. Dallas.
Calgary Flames: Their second-half surge stalled somewhat this month and might have kept going if they’d had top center Brendan Morrison for the last few weeks. He’d been a point-a-game player for two months when he went down with a season-ending knee injury on Mar. 3.
David Moss was moved to center to help fill that hole, but he suffered an ankle injury in practice shortly afterward and has been out since. Freddie Modin, who has been in and out of the lineup for Atlanta and Calgary all season, is currently out with back problems, missing the last five games. Niklas Hagman missed Wednesday’s game in San Jose, suffering from concussion-like symptoms after leaving Monday’s game against Los Angeles in the first period. There is speculation that he could be done for the season. Defenseman Adam Pardy (shoulder) has been out since Feb. 7, but Calgary has good depth on D. They haven’t had winger Raitis Ivanans since opening night when he was concussed in a fight with the Oilers’ Steve MacIntyre. On the positive side, Daymond Langkow, who suffered a fractured vertebrae almost a year ago and has yet to play this season, is practicing with the Flames and could return before season’s end.
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Sharp’s injury is not as bad as initially feared after his collision with the Coyotes’ Rostislav Klesla in Phoenix on Sunday, but he’s probably not going to be back much before the playoffs start and maynot be 100 percent even then. Sharp’s 34 goals are tops on the Hawks and fifth in the league. It’s a blow to Chicago, who had inserted him between Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to form a potent top line in recent weeks.
Adding to Chicago’s problems is the concussion suffered by second line center Dave Bolland. He’s missed four games and hasn’t had any significant improvement after Pavel Kubina’s elbow clocked him on March 9. (Kubina was suspended for three games.) Defenseman Brian Campbell (leg), who had been out four full games and most of a fifth, returned Wednesday against Florida. Fellow d-man Jordan Hendry is gone for the season with a torn ACL, suffered at the end of February.
Dallas Stars: Fighting for one of the West’s last playoff spots, Dallas got good news on Wednesday when highly underrated winger Loui Eriksson, who missed two and a half games with a concussion, returned against Anaheim and scored. Rugged forward Adam Burish, out with a lower body injury suffered on March 11, still isn’t skating and there’s no timetable for his return.
Detroit Red Wings: Their defense corps is finally healthy, but as long as Pavel Datsyuk, probably the game’s most complete player, is out of the lineup, opponents will have more confidence. Datsyuk (lower body) has missed three straight and Detroit has lost all three, albeit one via the postgame skills competition after fighting back from a four-goal deficit against the Penguins on Monday. It hasn’t helped that Johan Franzen (groin) was also missing from the lineup for those two games, as was Jiri Hudler, who was ill with a virus. Hudler returned Wednesday against Vancouver and scored a power play goal for the Wings’ lone tally. Todd Bertuzzi, who has been playing hurt (lower body) for a few games, missed the Canucks game as the Wings gave him a few days off to heal. But the injury that may have had the biggest impact impact is Chris Osgood’s (groin). Sidelined since Jan. 7, he’s tried a few times to make it back, but can’t seem to shake the problem and has gone on IR. Jimmy Howard has been forced to shoulder most of the work in goal and, judging by his recent performances, may be worn down.
Los Angeles Kings: Justin Williams, who had finally put together a healthy season, will miss up to four weeks with a dislocated shoulder and it’s a big blow. He’s their second-leading scorer and his speed causes trouble for opposing defenders.
Winger Kyle Clifford, out since suffering an apparent concussion on March 15, has been cleared to return for Thursday’s game against the Sharks.
Nashville Predators: With three centers spending significant time on the IR list this season, the Preds have nevertheless remained in the playoff hunt, thanks most recently to the contributions of rookie call-up Blake Geoffrion. They lost Matthew Lombardi (concussion) for the season in October, and in February lost both Cal O’Reilly (broken leg) and Marcel Goc (shoulder). O’Reilly has just started skating again, but there’s no timetable for his return and Goc had season ending surgery. Winger Steve Sullivan, out since Feb. 25, with a groin injury, has started skating again and he’s an important element on the Preds. Defenseman Frankie Bouillon (concussion) has also been out since February and is still not right.
Phoenix Coyotes: Big defenseman Ed Jovanovski took a big step toward returning this week when he resumed skating with the team after his mid-Februrary collision with Atlanta’s Patrice Cormier that resulted in Jovo breaking his orbital bone and Cormier being concussed. Top center Martin Hanzal (lower body) has missed nine of the last 10 games and has been skating with the team, but there’s no timetable on his return.
San Jose Sharks: They were initially worried that rookie scoring leader Logan Couture (27 goals) would join some of the other impact players on this list after he injured his leg last Saturday against the Blues when he slammed into the boards.
But Couture skated with the team on Wednesday and was good to go that night against the Flames. Forward Scott Nichol and defenseman Kent Huskins have each been out for 13 games with upper body injuries and there’s no word on their returns. Nichol skated with the team this week, Huskins is not back on the ice in any way. Niclas Wallin, who suffered concussion symptoms after being hit head-first into the boards by Dallas’s Jamie Langenbrunner a week ago, skated on Wednesday but did not play against the Flames.
Vancouver Canucks: We wrote about Manny Malhotra’s eye injury and his importance last week. This team is still dealing with injuries to their defense corps, but solid depth and good coaching have kept them winning. Kevin Bieska returned on Wednesday, playing a team-high 23:19 against the Red Wings, after missing 15 games with a foot fracture. Alex Edler, one of their top two defensemen, underwent back surgery at the end of January and is skating on his own, hoping to return sometime in April prior to the playoffs. Andrew Alberts is also skating on his own after breaking his wrist in mid-February. Besides Malhotra, second-liner Mikael Samuelsson and fourth-liner Tanner Glass missed the Red Wings game with upper body injuries, and it’s unclear how long they’ll be gone. On Wednesday, Glass missed his fifth straight game. The Canucks say Samuelsson could have played if it was the postseason, but they opted to let him heal.