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Injuries poised to influence the playoffs
Sharks can benefit by staying healthy
3/27/11 - By Mike Lee -

I may be jinxing things, but I wanted to cover a topic that no team wants to deal with. Injuries. Globe and Mail columnist James Mirtle published a list of man-games lost to injury this season. The Sharks were ranked 25th on the list, with a total of 148 man-games lost thus far. As the playoffs approach, the topic of injuries will play a major role in the success or failure of a team's push toward a Stanley Cup.

Injuries are already major stories in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. Sydney Crosby's concussion has been the front and center story in the NHL, but the Penguins have weathered the storm and are close to having their superstar return to the lineup.

Marc Savard's career is essentially over. With reports of him suffering memory loss after sustaining his umpteenth concussion, it's hard to believe that he'll ever return. It's not like you can simply replace players like Crosby and Savard, but at least those teams have had time to adjust to their absences.

Buffalo defenseman Jordan Leopold will miss a few weeks, if not the remainder of the season, after breaking his hand.

Adjusting to the sudden absence of a superstar or role player isn't something that many teams can cope with, especially during the playoffs.

The Vancouver Canucks have cruised as the team to beat in the West, but they're now facing a turning point in their season. Losing Manny Malhotra last week to what could potentially be a career-ending eye injury, creates a huge void in the faceoff and special teams component of the Canucks game.

Vancouver may now also be without defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who was injured on Sunday when he collided with teammate Kevin Bieksa. Hamhuis recently returned to the lineup after suffering a concussion earlier this season.

How will the Canucks respond with the playoffs two weeks away?

With Chris Osgood already on the shelf with a groin issue, goaltender Jimmy Howard suffered a shoulder injury last Wednesday against the St Louis Blues. The Detroit Red Wings must now rely on backup Joey MacDonald and ECHL farmhand Thomas McCollum in net.

This isn't the time of the year that you want to be conducting tryouts in net, but an MRI confirmed that Howard did not suffer any serious damage, so the Red Wings may not be without his services for long.

Even so, a healthy goaltender is better than a dinged-up goaltender. Even the notion of an injury to your goaltender can create doubt with line players. The Red Wings are seasoned enough to move past things like that, but even they are human.

In the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Kings lost Justin Williams to a dislocated shoulder a week ago, then suffered a huge blow when leading scorer Anze Kopitar suffered a broken ankle and is expected to miss a minimum of six weeks.

The Phoenix Coyotes are without Ed Jovanovski, whose face is essentially broken. Beyond that, the Coyotes, Ducks and Stars are devoid of any major absences as the regular season winds down.

What about the Sharks?

The most noticeable issue the Sharks are dealing with currently is the penalty kill. The inability to keep the puck out of their own net when short-handed has raised plenty of concerns. Special-teams has a bigger impact on games come playoff time. Handing the opposition free goals isn't something easily overcome when you have to win four games before the opposition in order to advance.

Have injuries contributed to this problem? The Sharks have lingered near the middle of the pack for most of the season, but since Nichol got hurt in late February against Calgary. In the four weeks since then the Sharks have slipped twelve spots in the NHL rankings for penalty killing effectiveness.

I've heard the arguments that the Sharks special teams took its real hit when San Jose lost Malhotra, but the fact of the matter is, Nichol's absence has affected this part of the Shark's game.

Granted, the Sharks have gone 19-4-3 over the last two months, so it's not like the wheels are falling off. In fact, it's been quite the contrary, and the absence of major injuries may be the biggest contributor to that success.

To further prove the correlation between injuries and team success, just look at the Colorado Avalanche. The playoff surprise last season has been riddled with injuries, ranking 2nd on Mirtle's list with 385 man-games lost this season. Colorado not only isn't going to make the playoffs this season, but the results of their catastrophic injury run may have even forced them to respond foolishly.

In an attempt to overcome their problems, they shipped one of their brightest young stars packing when they shipped Chris Stewart to St Louis in a trade deadline day move. The New Jersey Devils, ranked 3rd in man-games lost, will be lucky if they make the playoffs this season. If not for a remarkable push late in the year, the Devils would have been relegated to the cellar by the All Star break.

So when I look at the Shark's situation, the injury issue doesn't appear to be an issue at all. I'd go as far to say that the Sharks almost have a guardian angel on their side. Dan Boyle and Logan Couture looked as if they might have suffered season ending injuries earlier this month, but both were back in the lineup quickly.

Recent playoff runs always revealed injuries that hampered the Sharks. Is this the year the injury bugs avoid the Sharks lineup? If things continue the way they have during the regular season, things could translate well for San Jose once the playoffs begin.

LGS - Sharks Injury Log


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