How Teams Will Cope With Injuries to Super Stars

The new season is young, but injuries have already
sidelined some major star players.

Stars like Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Canucks’
goalie Roberto Luongon and Thrashers’ sniper Ilya Kovalchuk were all injured
this week and should miss significant time as a result of their injuries.  Here’s a look at how these teams will try to
cope with the absence of some of their best players: 

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins.  Malkin suffered a shoulder strain and will be
out of action for 2-3 weeks.  The injury
will end his string of 254 consecutive games played.  Malkin should miss between seven and 10 games
if he returns on schedule. 

The defending Stanley Cup champions have the depth to
overcome the short term absence of Malkin. 
Sidney Crosby should remain the number one center and Jordan Staal is
more than capable of taking on extra ice time and responsibility as the number
two pivot. 

The absence of Malkin will probably be felt most on
the power play, especially since defenseman Sergei Gonchar, the quarterback of
the Penguin power play is already out of the lineup.

Two seasons ago, Crosby missed more than a month due
to injury and Malkin stepped up his play and kept his team’s offense
humming.  Now it’s time for Crosby to do
likewise. 

The Pens are off to a 10-2-0 start.  Losing Malkin may slow them down a bit, but
if any team is able to overcome the loss of a star player, it is the defending
Stanley Cup champions.

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks:  

Luongo suffered a hairline fracture on one of his
ribs.  Early reports say he may miss as few
as two games, but the Vancouver would be wise not to rush him back too soon.

The Canucks are built around the goaltending of
Luongo who has started all 12 games for Vancouver prior to suffering the
injury.  Luongo has a reputation as a
slow starter and this year, he has a rather ordinary 2.79 goals against average
and .902 save percentage.  Both Luongo
and the Canucks were 6-6-0 at the time of the injury.

Andrew Raycroft will take over between the pipes in
Luongo’s absence.  Raycroft has plenty of
experience and has been a starter for the Bruins, Maple Leafs and Avalanche
with mixed results throughout his NHL career. 
He earned a 2-1 shootout win over the Kings in his first start of the
season on Thursday night.   

This is an injury Luongo is familiar with.  It doesn’t heal too quickly, but a goalie can
play with it if he can manage the pain.

“I dealt with this a couple of years ago,” Luongo told reporters when his
injury was announced. “It’s almost the same injury and I know more or less what
the timeline is and how you feel on a day-to-day basis.  There is no definite timeline because it’s
really about the amount of pain that you’ve got there. I’m definitely not
playing the next two games, so we’ll see after that.”

There is no sense is rushing Luongo back.  If Vancouver hopes to contend this season,
they will need their superstar goalie to carry the bulk of the load.  It would be better to have him miss a few
extra games in October and early November than to have him struggle down the
stretch or into the playoffs.  Raycroft
is capable of getting the job done in the short term.  In the long run, the Canucks would not be the
same team without Luongo guarding their net.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta Thrashers:

The loss of Ilya Kovalchuk will be the most
difficult of the three for any team to overcome.  The Russian sniper will miss between three
and five weeks with a broken bone in his foot. 

Atlanta was off to a surprisingly fast start and was
Kovalchuk leading the way with nine goals in eight games.  Only two other Thrashers have scored more
than two goals on the season: Rich Peverley with five and rookie Evander Kane
with three.

There are a few players on the Thrashers roster who will
be given a chance to take more offensive responsibility, but none of the them
strike fear in opposing players like Kovalchuk does.  Nik Antropov, Slava Kozlov and Maxim
Afinogenov are veterans with offensive ability but a history of inconsistent
performances while the 18-year-old Kane has high end talent but lacks NHL
experience and functional strength at this point in his development. 

The worst part for Atlanta is that Kovalchuk is
scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.  The franchise was hoping to demonstrate
tangible progress in the standings to help convince Kovalchuk to re-sign with
the Thrashers. 

The injury may reduce Kovalchuk’s trade value if he
does not sufficiently recover from the injury. 
More importantly, if the Thrashers stumble without their best player on
the ice for a month or more, will Kovalchuk and his agent take that into consideration
when deciding whether or not his future is best spent in Atlanta or elsewhere?

Injuries are part of the game and all teams have to deal
with them over the course of an 82-game season. The loss of each of these players
will hurt their respective teams, but the Thrashers and Kovalchuk have the
biggest obstacles to overcome right now.

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