I understand that the NHL’s schedule makers prefer to stagger games so that they give teams both a reasonable amount of rest and also the chance to cash in on the highest traffic nights (aka Thursday and Saturday), but let’s face it. Sometimes it gets a little ridiculous. Take this week, for instance: there were two games on Monday, 13 last night, two tonight and then there will be 11 on Thursday and just five on Friday. Again, it makes sense that teams need to maximize those bigger evenings, but it’s a tough break for fans of the league as a whole.
It also makes it a bit difficult to focus on every little story and every big injury, but let’s try to give it a go. Sadly, I’m going to have to start with injuries – from new ones to updates on existing issues.
TRY NOT TO VANEK
He might not be as responsible in his zone as Scott Stevens but Dion Phaneuf is a lot like the retired New Jersey Devils headhunter in that it’s never really safe to lower your head when he’s around. Thomas Vanek is the latest victim of a brutal Phaneuf hit (some might say he was Phaneuf’d even) and the results are troubling. The near-point-per-game Buffalo Sabres forward left the game and didn’t return with an “upper-body injury,” which hopefully doesn’t mean a concussion.
KARLSSON CURBED; NEAL MAKES SURPRISE COMEBACK
Another big “Uh oh” came right before the Ottawa Senators took the ice to eventually beat the tar out of the Pittsburgh Penguins: emerging star defenseman Erik Karlsson decided not to play with an unclear upper-body issue. As always, the hope is that it’s not a concussion; he participated in the morning skate on Tuesday so hopefully it’s something that’s easier to overcome.
In a rare bit of good injury news for the Penguins, James Neal managed to come back way earlier than expected, as a foot fracture turned out to just be a bone bruise. One cannot help but wonder if he might be slowed by the injury, but Pittsburgh really needs him, even if he’s only at 50-70 percent.
DATS NOT GOOD
Speaking of star players who sat out last night’s game, Pavel Datsyuk was unable to help the Detroit Red Wings overcome their surprising issues with the New York Islanders (The Isles are 5-0-1 against them since the lockout). We’ll keep an eye out for updates on his condition, too. On the (possibly?) bright side, Datsyuk’s injury is reportedly a lower-body issue. (Note: anything that doesn’t sound like a concussion to me defaults to somewhat good news at this point.)
There’s such a volume of issues remaining that we’ll push this section to the top and try to take care of them in a rapid-fire style:
Starting with some solid good news, Jordan Eberle’s knee issues don’t seem major. The word is that he’ll only be out 2-3 weeks, which is definitely a relief. In other Edmonton Oilers knee injury news, that dirty Daniel Carcillo hit will sideline Tom Gilbert for about a month … Sad update out of the department of recurring injuries: Pierre-Marc Bouchard is struggling with concussions once again, although the Minnesota Wild say that this one isn’t as bad. Either way, he’s on the IR and might be worth dropping if you have someone else taking up your only slot(s) … Jacob Markstrom will undergo knee surgery today. The Florida Panthers are spinning it as a minor procedure – in fact, Scott Clemmensen supposedly underwent a similar procedure earlier this season and is now the de facto starter while Jose Theodore struggles with knee issues of his own – but let’s look at the reality of the situation. Markstrom is a 21-year-old goalie of the future who has had two knee surgeries in the same amount of years. If I’m Dale Tallon, I’d be seriously concerned … There’s no timetable on how long Jeff Carter’s separated shoulder will sideline him … Mike Ribeiro is struggling with a knee injury in Dallas … Sidney Crosby is exercising, which could mean something but I’ll take it as very little until the Penguins give a little more information. In other words, don’t hold your breath ... On the rare bright side of concussion talk, Andy McDonald could be back soon for the St. Louis Blues, which could make an already surging team downright scary. (Click here for the full injury list.)
QUICK HITS – EXTENDED EDITION
Matt Cullen (Game No. 1,000) scored a goal and a shootout game-winner while Teemu Selanne (Game No. 1,300) recorded two assists in milestone evenings. Saku Koivu didn’t reach a specific games played bench mark himself, but he did score just the second hat trick of his impressive NHL career … The Calgary Flames took advantage of horrific New Jersey Devils goaltending. Not surprisingly, some Flames players really reaped the benefits. It’s probably not surprising that Jarome Iginla was of them, as he had three points and 7 PIM. Curtis “Glengarry” Glencross was a little more shocking, as he scored a goal and three assists in the game. Definitely give him a look if he’s a free agent in your league … Jaroslav Halak took advantage of his first trip back to Montreal since he was winning playoff games for them by shutting out his former team. Sure, he only needed 19 saves, but some of them were dramatic enough to evoke memories of that great run … Speaking of great runs, Jonas Gustavsson is red-hot right now. The Monster made 32 stops to do so … Ryan Ellis now has four points (2 G, 2 A) in his last two games, but it might not be time to pick up an offensive defenseman who seems to have a promising future … Viktor Stalberg would be a fantasy stud if he only played against Columbus. He scored a hat trick, making it seven of his 11 goals coming against the hapless Blue Jackets (who lost in Todd Richards interim coaching debut, by the way) … Tobias Enstrom and Mark Streit are two disappointing D’s who are picking up their games for their respective teams … Sergei Bobrovsky continues to outplay Ilya Bryzgalov but the Flyers are likely to shoehorn the more expensive Russian into the lineup anyway. Good old paycheck politics … The Dallas Stars had an awful Tuesday, losing to Jeff Deslauriers and the daffy Ducks. The one guy who looked great was Steve Ott, though. He scored a goal, collected an assist, had a +1 rating and won 14 out of 15 faceoffs. I’ve always thought that he’s far more than the pesky reputation he carries with him and nights like that are Exhibit A.