NHL injuries starting to pile up, forcing teams to adjust

Bruce Bennett

It's not a plague nor a trend, but a fact of NHL life: A quarter of the way into the lockout-compressed 2013 season, teams are starting to deal with injuries.

When the end of the NHL lockout led to the announcement of a "compressed" 48-game schedule, we heard two common prediction narratives:

1) With fewer off days in between games, teams would be playing their backup goalies more often.

2) More teams would suffer nagging injuries due to the same reason.

So far the first prediction hasn't come to pass. Teams are actually playing their top goalies much more than they did last year. The second prediction, however, is beginning to creep to the surface -- even if it's more due to hockey being a dangerous sport, rather than the compressed schedule leading to pulled muscles and such.

But whether it's a fatigued leg leading to a groin pull or a broken jaw from a fluke bounce, injuries force teams to adjust either through callups, relying on depth, or swinging trades. Now a quarter of the way into the NHL season, we're about to see those adjustments.

In Detroit, lingering injuries to Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson have led to opportunities for prospects like Tomas Tatar, who scored a nifty second NHL goal against the Blues Wednesday night.

In Florida, defenseman Ed Jovanovski has been out since the fifth game of the season with a knee injury and doesn't look to be back in the struggling Panthers lineup for at least another week, but the Panthers are trying to just get by on a shortened roster without him.

Thursday morning the Vancouver Canucks shut down Manny Malhotra for the season, essentially due to effects of a serious eye injury he suffered in 2011. For them, the loss of the specialist fourth-line center hurts, but it hurts much less now that Ryan Kesler is on the verge of returning to the lineup after an injury delayed his 2013 season. The Canucks may not have to make a move there.

In New Jersey, however, a wrist injury for Dainius Zubrus ultimately required surgery, meaning he'll miss another four to six weeks. The Devils have acquired Andrei Loktionov and Alexei Ponikarovsky in the last week to shore up.

Just last night, Derek Morris left the game with what the Phoenix Coyotes called an upper body injury. If he's out for any length of time, it's a serious blow to their blueline.

Of course, the hardest hit so far has probably been the Ottawa Senators, who already lost Jason Spezza long term to a back injury and now are faced with the devastating news of Erik Karlsson's Achilles tendon injury. There's talk of the Senators dangling one of their three goalies to get a defenseman to fill in, but for that club there is really no replacing Spezza nor Karlsson. That doesn't keep GM Bryan Murray from hoping a colleague helps him out though.

For the most part, these injuries are hockey injuries: Knees and backs and bones and, yikes, even a lacerated tendon. Not groin pulls strained muscles like you see when bodies are overworked. Maybe a plague of the latter kind of injury is still around the corner.

But this is hockey, this is a grueling contact sport, and the adjustments and mourning of injuries for 2013 has already begun.

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