Photo: Las Vegas Review Journal
Several of the teams who were expected to be contenders in the 2021-22 season have spent much of the season dealing with a long injury list and/or long term injuries to key players. This includes the Colorado Avalanche, the Las Vegas Knights, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals.
While this is not an exhaustive list of injuries throughout the league, it highlights what some of the recent and long-term powerhouse teams have had to deal with on the injury front so far this season.
The Colorado Avalanche won the Presidents’ Trophy for the 2020-21 season and were expected to be one of the leading contenders for this season’s Stanley Cup. However, they currently have a relatively pedestrian record of 4-5-1.
The Avalanche injury list has been extremely long this season – 10 players thus far, with many out for long stretches of time. The injuries began before the official start of the season.
Devon Toews had off season shoulder surgery and was not be ready to start the season. He didn’t return until November 7. Backup goaltender, Pavel Francouz, sprained his ankle in a preseason game and has still not returned. Center Nathan MacKinnon was unable to play in the team’s first two games due to testing positive for Covid, but played on October 19.
After that, throughout October and early November, the injuries kept on coming. Injured players included Valeri Nichushkin, Stefan Matteau, Samuel Girard, Mikko Rantanen, Andre Burakovsky, Martin Kaut, and Cale Makar.
November 6 marked the return of Toews, Rantanen, and Burakovsky to the Avalanche, with it being the first game of the season for Toews. The game on November 6 marked the fourth time the top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen all played in the same game.
Las Vegas Knights
The Las Vegas Knights had the same number of points as the Presidents’ Trophy winning Colorado Avalanche last season and were also expected to be one of the leading contenders for the Stanley Cup. However, they also have a pedestrian record of 6-5-0, are in the middle of the Pacific Division Standings, and have a very long injury list, with long term injuries to key players.
Injured players include Max Pacioretty, who fractured his left foot on October 14 and is expected to miss six weeks; Mark Stone, who injured his back on October 14; William Karlsson who broke his foot on October 30; Zach Whitecloud suffered a hand injury on October 22; Nolan Patrick, who had an upper body injury on October 22 and Jake Bischoff injured on October 25.
All of those players are still out. The guesstimates on their returns are: Pacioretty – end of November; Karlsson – December 14; Patrick – November 7; Whitecloud and Bischoff – November 9 .
They also had Alex Tuch, who had off season shoulder surgery and has since been traded. They acquired Jack Eichel, who had a neck injury and is expected to miss the next three months after surgery. His expected return is late February.
Other players who missed time this season due to injury, but who are now back include William Carrier, Mattias Janmark, Alec Martinez, Brett Howden, and Nicolas Roy.
It has been typical for the Pittsburgh Penguins in recent years to be dealing with significant injuries at the beginning of the season. The 2021-22 season has been no exception.
They were already expecting to have several players on the sidelines, due to injuries, to start the season. Center Evgeny Malkin underwent off season surgery for a knee injury; Center Sidney Crosby underwent surgery for a wrist injury; Winger Jake Guentzel was still in Covid protocol and defenseman Mike Matheson had a lower body injury.
Just two games into the season, Brian Rust got a lower body injury but finally came off injured reserve on November 6. Guentzel and Matheson were able to come back not long after the season opener, though.
Then the onslaught of players testing positive for Covid continued. This included Center Jeff Carter, Defenseman Marcus Pettersson, Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, Defenseman Brian Dumolin, and Crosby.
Crosby played in just one game before going back on injured reserve, this time with Covid. Carter was back at the end of October. The remaining Pittsburgh players on Covid protocol are expected back before mid-November.
Malkin is expected to return on December 1. With all the injuries and players in Covid protocol, the Penguins are currently at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings with a record of 4-3-3. While it is certainly underachievement for the Penguins, their current last place record is more a function of having no true bottom feeder team in the division.
The Capitals have not had as long of an injury list, in terms of numbers, as the Colorado Avalanche, the Las Vegas Knights or the Pittsburgh Penguins, but their injuries have removed their entire second line from the playing roster at the same time.
Their most significant injury involved top center, Nicklas Backstrom, who has missed the entire season so far due to a hip injury. He has begun skating again but has not returned to practicing with the team, much less enduring any contact. He is expected to be out until November 12, at least.
Then, there was another hit to their center ranks when Nic Dowd was injured on October 23. He missed the next game on October 25, returned on October 27, and then was out for the next two games (October 29 and November 1).
The Caps were already without Backstrom, with no return date in immediate sight. But then came the hits to the rest of the second line. T.J. Oshie injured his foot on October 27 and has been out ever since.
Then, Anthony Mantha injured his shoulder in the game on November 4 and required surgery. He will be out until at least January 2. With the lack of a true second line, the Caps now have a record of 5-2-4 and have not won a single game during the month of November.
St. Louis Blues
During the 2020-21 season, the St Louis Blues performed much worse than expected, with numerous injuries and numerous players in Covid protocol. So far this season, the Blues have performed well, posting a record of 7-1-1. But they seemed to have been hit hard with Covid. Winger Oscar Sundqvist has been out with a knee injury since late last season and is currently expected back in mid-November.
Their main problem on the health front has been players in Covid protocol and there is concern that they might have to play a lineup with less than 18 players in the near future if anything else happens.
Players in Covid protocol for the Blues include Captain and Center, Ryan O’Reilly, winger Brandan Saad, forward Kyle Clifford, goalie Ville Husso, defenseman Torey Krug, and defenseman Niko Mikkola.
Saad has since returned. O’Reilly is expected to play in Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. But in the midst of their ongoing Covid epidemic, center Brayden Schenn got an upper body injury. The remaining Blues players in Covid protocol are expected to be out until at least November 7. Schenn is expected to be out until at least November 11.
It appears that the players on the Colorado Avalanche and St Louis Blues should be back soon. The Avalanche still have time to salvage their season with players getting healthier. The recovery timeline is longer for the Las Vegas Knights, who have key players still expected to be out for relatively long stretches. The main thing going for them is their division is not loaded with strong teams, so a winning streak could easily get them back in playoff position.
The Caps and Penguins, meanwhile, have to deal with the fact that they’re in a very competitive division with no bottom feeding teams but falling behind too far would hurt both of their chances.
By Diane Doyle