Just like any hockey game, the pace of news coming out of the Eastern Conference this week isn’t slowing down. Metropolitan division rivals Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbus, New Jersey, are all dealing with injuries, as are the Florida Panthers with a couple of their young cats, and Ottawa receives bad news in regards to the rehabilitation regarding one of their veterans.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had high hopes when this season started. They felt they finally had the missing piece when they traded for Phil Kessel from Toronto. However, 28 games into the season, the Penguins are 15-10-3, and sitting fifth in the Metropolitan Division, and one point out of a playoff spot. As a result, the Penguins announced they are relieving head coach Mike Johnston of his head coaching duties, and replacing him with Mike Sullivan who came from Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The news isn’t any better coming out of the Steel City. The Penguins also announced that Kris Letang will be out for at least 2 weeks with what the team is calling an “upper body injury.” If that wasn’t enough, the team also mentioned that Pascal Dupuis will be placed on long-term injury, after experiencing chest pain that may have been related to the blood clots he suffered while rehabilitating a knee injury 2 years ago. It was determined by the Penguins medical staff that it was not optimal for Dupuis’s long-term health to keep playing.
As the Penguins deal with a new coach and the loss of a couple of teammates due to injury, the Philadelphia Flyers have also been bitten by the injury bug. The Flyers announced they will be without the services of defenseman Luke Schenn for at least two weeks due to an injury to his left foot. Schenn suffered the injury after Columbus Blue Jackets center Michael Chaput fell on him after going into the boards. Schenn’s injury already thins out a Flyers defensive core that has seen injuries to Mark Streit, and a suspension handed out to Radko Gudas. This will force the Flyers to call up another defenseman from their AHL affiliate in Lehigh Valley.
The Flyers aren’t the only one scrambling on defense. The turn-around the Columbus Blue Jackets were hoping for regarding their season has taken a major detour. Sergei Bobrovsky has been placed on injured reserve for three weeks due to a groin strain. This same injury has plagued Bobrovsky the last two seasons, forcing him to miss a total of 27 games. This is not good news for Columbus, as they have played much better as a team since head coach John Tortorella took over, but no one has played better than Bobrovsky.
While the Blue Jackets have had a disappointing season so far, the New Jersey Devils have been the biggest surprise in the Metropolitan in the early part of this season. However, the team stated that they will be without top forwards Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac for an unknown amount of time. Henrique twisted his left leg in after becoming entwined with Matt Hunwick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Head coach John Hynes said that he is day-to-day and will continue to be evaluated. The news isn’t so good for Travis Zajac. Zajac has been placed on injured reserve with an arm injury that occurred when he was tripped by Carolina’s Kris Versteeg and landed on it.
The Florida Panthers are also without key players on both sides of the puck in center Nick Bjugstad and defenseman Alex Petrovic. Bjugstad is out with what the team will only term it as an “upper-body injury” and the team will not elaborate on more than what exactly the injury is. Head coach Gerard Gallant stated regarding Bjugstad’s injury as “…not short-term”. Bjugstad has missed 6 games to this point and did not be travel with the team when they went to Boston on Saturday. However; the Panthers were more disclosing with the injury that has affected defenseman Alex Petrovic. Petriovic has been battling an ankle injury since blocking a shot from the Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin on October 31st. The team is confident in Petrovic’s conditioning as he works to return to the line up and anticipate him to be back within the next week.
Finally, the Ottawa Senators received just the opposite news regarding veteran defenseman Chris Phillips. Phillips had back surgery in the off-season, and encountered another setback while rehabilitating his back. Because of this latest setback, Phillips may not attempt to come back and try to play for the Senators this season. General Manager Bryan Murray stated, “Chris is a ways away. He’s trying really hard, he’s in the gym and doing some skating but I would say, in my estimation, he’s a longshot to come back.”
Western Conference Recap:
Let’s begin with some awful news out of the Shark Tank. Sharks forward Logan Couture suffered another leg injury on Wednesday night against the Edmonton Oilers. It was Couture’s 2nd game back from his lengthy fractured fibula injury, which made him miss 23 games. The surgery he had done on Thursday involved a repair to a small arterial bleed in his right leg. He is out indefinitely.
Patrick Kane continues his torrid point pace, and he is now looking for points in 25 straight games. The Winnipeg Jets stand in his way as they will face the Blackhawks on Friday night. Will Kane continue his point streak through this weekend? If Kane registers a point against the Jets, the Vancouver Canucks will look to stop Kane’s point streak on Sunday.
Speaking of the Canucks, defenseman Dan Hamhuis sustained a facial fracture on Wednesday after he took a Dan Boyle slapshot to the face. He actually left Rogers Arena on a stretcher. His surgery is scheduled for Friday and there is no timetable for his return.
Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk seems to be fighting a bit of a groin strain right now. He will miss the next couple of games with this injury. Darcy Kuemper is expected to hold the net down until Dubnyk returns. Dubnyk will miss a couple of road games in Arizona and San Jose over the weekend.
The Edmonton Oilers have made some defense core changes. Earlier this week, they placed Mark Fayne on waivers with the purpose of sending him to Bakersfield (AHL). Fayne cleared waivers and the Oilers called up Nikita Nikitin to replace him in the lineup.
Could there be a goalie controversy brewing in Anaheim? Well, John Gibson has played in net the last 7 games for the Ducks. He will most likely be making his eighth straight start against Carolina on Friday night. Gibson replaced Frederik Andersen a couple of weeks ago when Andersen had an illness. It looks like Ducks bench boss is riding the hot hand in goal. It is not a bad strategy by the Ducks. Gibson is putting up some phenomenal numbers. Heading into the Carolina game, Gibson has 4 wins, 1.47 goals against average, .944 save percentage, and 2 shutouts.
The hottest team in the Western Conference right now is probably the Los Angeles Kings. They have won 5 straight games and they just began a 6 game Eastern road trip. They defeated Columbus 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday night. The remaining stops on this lengthy road trip include Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto. The Kings will be on the road a good portion in December. After this Eastern road trip concludes, the Kings will return for 1 home game against the San Jose Sharks on December 22. After that solo home game, they are back out on the road out West between Christmas and New Years for 4 games. These road games are very important for the Kings as they attempt to keep their strong lead in the Pacific Division.
By Andrea Sobolik and George Foussekis