With just two weeks left in the regular season, playoff spots are starting to get locked down. The Penguins and Flyers have clinched, and I may have referred to the fact that I’d be covering them together as “adorable” in a recent email. These are two scary good teams in a scary good division (except you, Long Island) with two completely different injury situations.
Last regular season game: April 7th against the Flyers – Adorable!!!
The Penguins are in pretty good shape headed into the playoffs, with few injuries (several of which look to be short-term) and the return of a certain Mr. Crosby. They were good without him, and they’ll be ridiculous with him.
Brent Johnson (G): Out since 2/20 – Mystery ailment (lower body)
Oh no, the dreaded mystery ailment! Brent Johnson was pulled February 19th after starting off a loss to Buffalo in style by giving up three quick goals. He skated off the ice, made it partway through one more practice, and then disappeared forever. He has said he “tweaked” something, and a month later we still have no idea what he tweaked, nor why the Pens are being so cagey about it. Keep in mind this is guy who had hip surgery in 2009, and this current injury is supposedly lower body. I’m not saying the two are related, I’m just saying hip injuries tend to be indolent, aggravating things that like to reoccur. He tried to skate earlier this month and aggravated whatever this is, but is once again back practicing. Bylsma has said that Fleury will rest for a few of the remaining games and that Johnson will play when he’s pain-free. Those two things may intersect in the next few weeks, but in the meantime I’ll amuse myself by speculating wildly as to what this injury could be. I’ve currently settled on “terrible GAA“.
Ben Lovejoy (D): Out since 3/25 – Knee
Lovejoy hit the boards in Sunday’s game against the Devils, and appeared to be favouring his right knee when he left the ice. He was to be re-evaluated early this week, which is probably Penguin code for getting an MRI to see if he tore anything in there. The outcome of that test will determine if we’ve seen the last of him this season or if there might be a chance that he could return. UPDATE: Lovejoy is out for 3-4 weeks after having his knee scoped today. I have to admit I find that slightly nuts – a normal person might expect to be back to normal (non-NHL) activities in that amount of time, but to be back and playoff-ready? Holy crap. I’m impressed. Uh, you know, if it happens.
Matt Niskanen (D): Out since 3/25 – Mystery ailment (upper body)
Three players in and we’ve already firmly established a pattern of Pittsburgh injury non-disclosure. This never fails to amuse me considering this is the team that held a press conference every time Sid Crosby blew his nose. Niskanen hasn’t been back since taking a hit from Jordin Tootoo late last week, but he’s currently skating so expect to see him back in the next few days.
Steve Sullivan (LW): Out since 3/24 – Mystery ailment (somewhere on his body)
The Penguins need to have their facilities fumigated, because they’ve got a mystery ailment infestation. Sullivan left Saturday’s game against the Senators due to some sort of injury (possibly injured pride, because that loss was bananas). He’s supposedly day-to-day, it’s supposedly minor, and supposedly he’ll be back soon. Supposedly.
Joe Vitale (C): Out since 3/17 – Upper body (shoulderish)
Vitale left a game against the Devils early, but he’s skating and is said to be on track to return soon.
Things that worry me: Malkin’s hand, Letang’s head, Crosby’s everything. These guys need to stay healthy, but Malkin took a puck to the hand, Letang keeps leaving games and coming back, and Crosby is Crosby.
UPDATE: I guess I was on to something when I said Letang worried me, because now he’s out day-to-day with a lower body mystery ailment. It seems he hit the boards feet-first in last night’s game, and per Shero/Bylsma this isn’t at all related to his concussion issues from earlier in the year. Uh huh. Sure.
Last regular season game: April 7th against the Penguins
The Flyers and Penguins are a study in contrasts. Where Pittsburgh has mostly short-term injuries, the Flyers have mostly long-term injuries. Where the Pens disclose the absolute minimum information on injuries, the Flyers disclose more than anyone could ever ask (“Want to know about Tom Sestito’s groin? No? WELL LET ME TELL YOU ANYWAY!”).
Blair Betts (C): Out since forever – Knee
Poor old Betts has been a write-off for a while. Montreal claimed him off waivers last fall then sent him right back after he failed his physical, and he hasn’t played since May of 2011. As recently as this January he was making noises about hoping to be back on the ice this season, but his left knee seems to have had other ideas and isn’t rehabbing well. The Flyers can’t miss a player they never had, so this is a non-issue (except for Betts, who probably thinks it’s a HUGE issue).
Ian Laperriere (RW): Out since 2010 – Post-concussion syndrome
Laperriere hasn’t played since the 2010 Stanley Cup finals against the Chicago Blackhawks – a series during which he now admits he was hiding post-concussive symptoms in order to play. A puck to the face at the beginning of the playoffs broke his orbital bone (which is sort of important seeing as how it holds your eye and all), resulted in multiple stitches, and gave him a concussion. He still deals with daily symptoms as a result, and although I appreciate the Flyers keeping him on their roster online, it also breaks my heart. He won’t be back. And that sucks so, so bad.
Andreas Lilja (D): Out since 3/22 – Upper body
Lilja missed one game after taking a puck to the throat in Boston, was back for two, and is now back out again with an undisclosed upper body injury. I’ll let this go with a minimum of snide remarks due the the Flyers’ aforementioned habit of information overload. Whatever this is must not be too serious, as Lilja is listed as day-to-day. He underwent every test known to man in Boston after his throatpuck and was cleared and played two games afterwards so I’m not inclined to think this is related. Obviously that’s a complete guess (albeit a partially educated one).
Andrej Meszaros (D): Out since 3/2 – lower back injury
Meszaros is scheduled for lower back surgery this week, and is going to be out for a minimum of six weeks afterwards. If he actually comes back in six weeks I’ll be amazed. Generally speaking if you’re having surgery of the variety that’s performed by a guy like this (a PhD in spinal trauma? That exists?), you probably don’t want to be rushing back on the ice. The surgery is to remove a disc fragment from his lower back (which could be impinging on a nerve, which hurts like crap). The specialist doing Meszaros’ surgery specializes in minimally invasive techniques (ie not cutting you open from stem to stern), which will help with recovery time, but I’m just not convinced he’ll be back this year.
Chris Pronger (D): Out since 11/20 – post-concussion syndrome
Even the heartiest Pronger-haters can’t argue with the fact that he’s had a rough year. Grabovski’s stick in the eye, knee surgery, and a concussion that’s had him out since mid-November. Pronger isn’t skating, isn’t practicing, and isn’t rehabbing yet due to severe symptoms. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as he attended a game this weekend and is seeing a neurologist this week in the hopes to begin light exertion. Keep in mind the Flyers have long since said that he’s done for the season. I wouldn’t take his appearance at the game as any indication otherwise. It seems like he’s slowly improving, which is the best possible news at this point. Don’t get greedy, Pronger-lovers.
Tom Sestito (LW): Out since 2/17 – torn groin
If the words “torn groin” don’t freak you out, then we can’t be friends. Sestito had surgery in late February to repair a torn groin muscle (TORN GROIN MUSCLE), and is supposed to be out six to eight weeks. That puts him back on the ice at just about exactly the end of the season, but I’m not sure how well one can skate immediately post-groin-repair. He seems pretty confident he can do it, since he’s said he wants to be back for playoffs. Unfortunately last time I checked you couldn’t will a groin injury into submission.
James VanRiemsdyk (LW): Out since 3/2 – Left foot
JVR is another Flyer who’s had a less than perfect year in terms of injuries, missing a total of 20 games from an abdominal injury and a concussion, then breaking his foot after only two weeks back. Blocking a Milan Jurcina slapper is not just a great way to break your foot, but to break it to the point of needing a surgical repair. A six to eight week recovery puts JVR at mid- to late April, but this is another player I’m not convinced we’ll be seeing any more of this season. I don’t think the Flyers will be pushing hard to get him back on the ice given his less than wonderful performance this season. On the other hand, desperate times call for desperate measures and the playoffs certainly qualify as such.
I can’t WAIT to watch these two teams in the playoffs. Pittsburgh is likely to get their injured players back mostly in the short-term, and with the exception of Lilja the Flyers will be playing as-is.
UPDATE: Flyers philosoper/goalie Ilya Bryzgalov played like the Ilya of old last night when he allowed a buttload of goals in a 5-3 Flyers loss to
Steven Stamkos the Tampa Bay Lightning. Apparently he took a puck to the leg in warmups and was limping around the locker room after the game. Supposedly he needed x-rays, but GM Paul Holmgren says he’s not hurt. Last time I checked (yesterday) x-rays are something you get on someone who is hurt to see how bad they’re hurt. Considering the Flyers were likely counting on the new improved Bryz to not suck through the playoffs, this could be a huge blow. When Bryzgalov is good, he’s very good. When he’s bad, he’s humangas bad (sorry, I had to). It’s going to be interesting to see how this shakes out.