More PP Injury Analysis
With a raft of injuries to report in the NHL these days - especially a growing number of concussions - this week's column takes another look at how this is affecting various teams' power play units, in terms of who's out, and who's seeing increased PP minutes as a result.
In Boston, with Zdeno Chara out with a knee injury, Andrew Ference appears to be getting the bulk of his PP minutes. On Dec. 13 against the Kings - the first game played without Chara in the lineup - coach Claude Julien used a top PP unit of David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley, Milan Lucic and Ference. The B's also have Dennis Seidenberg and Joe Corvo, two other guys who can QB the power play, and the longer Chara is out, I would expect to see these two guys used more than Ference, who has never shown himself to be much of a power play performer - he has just a single PP goal and 13 assists since arriving in Boston five seasons ago.
In Carolina, one thing's for sure - the Hurricanes' power play looks drastically different today than it did a year ago, considering the glaring absences of Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen (both out with concussions), and Tomas Kaberle, who was traded to Montreal. On Tuesday against Toronto, the 'Canes first PP squad sent over the boards that night consisted of Eric Staal, Tim Brent (huh?), Justin Faulk (who?), Tuomo Ruutu and Jamie McBain. I'm not quite sure what coaching strategy the recently-appointed Kirk Muller is using here, but I have to say I have my doubts. Staal in particular has been having enough trouble putting points on the board - even when Skinner was healthy - and now this? The 'Canes' power play currently ranks 25th in the NHL with a 13.6% success rate, and I just don't see things getting any better, certainly not for Staal, anyway.
In Ottawa, with Sergei Conchar currently on the sidelines with an upper body injury, rookie defenseman David Rundblad has been manning the point alongside Erik Karlsson on the Sens' top PP unit. Rundblad has just a single PP assist to his credit this season, but the longer Gonchar stays out, the more opportunities Rundblad will get, considering the Sens really don't have many other options. They're already using their top PP weapons in Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson (when healthy) and Chris Neil, who is filling in for the injured Milan Michalek (concussion).
In Philly, if the Flyers are a nervous bunch after losing their top forward (Claude Giroux - concussion) and top defenseman (Chris Pronger - knee, concussion), you'd never know it they way the rolled over the Capitals 5-1 earlier this week. The Flyers only had one man advantage situation that night so it's difficult to tell at this point who will be seeing the bulk of Giroux's and Pronger's ice time, but the guys who finished the night with the most PP minutes were Danny Briere, Matt Read, Scott Hartnell, Matt Carle and Andrej Meszaros. However, if you look at ice time over the past two weeks, the top line will probably look more like Briere, Read and Hartnell, with Jaromir Jagr and Kimmo Timonen. Read in particular is a guy to watch - he has three PP points (1G, 2A) in his last six games.
In Pittsburgh, the NHL fan base sent up a collective groan last week when Sidney Crosby announced he was back on the shelf with a recurrence of the concussion symptoms that caused him to miss the first 19 games of the season as well as the second half of last year. In terms of the Pens' power play, the top guys continue to be Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Steve Sullivan, with secondary contributions from Chris Kunitz, Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen. Expect Kunitz and Niskanen to receive the bulk of the added minutes now that Crosby is out, and don't forget Jason Williams, who is still hanging around after being called up a few games ago to sub in for an injured Jordan Staal. Wilson has averaged 2:30 - 3:00 minutes per game in the short time he's been back with the Pens.
Finally, in Tampa Bay, Martin St. Louis is expected to be out at least until late December after taking a puck to the face in practice Dec. 8. In his absence, Ryan Malone has been shifted up from the second PP unit to skate alongside Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier, with Eric Brewer and Marc-Andre Bergeron on the back end. Teddy Purcell and Steve Downie should also continue seeing secondary minutes, although neither guy has been particularly effective lately.
Pardon the departure here, as there are no injuries to speak of in Detroit at the moment (touch wood), but what a turnaround it's been for the Red Wings since their six-game losing streak in late October. Since then, they've won 14 of 18 games, due in no small part to their power play, which has been humming along at an impressive 22.5 percent clip. Johan Franzen has played a big role in the Wings' recent success, scoring six PP goals over that 18-game span, including four in his last six games. Pavel Datsyuk, after a slow start to the season, has also been contributing, with two PP goals and seven helpers. Furthermore, Nicklas Lidstrom is also on pace for another 55+ point season, even though he probably won't duplicate the 39 PP points he put up last season (7G, 32A). Lidstrom doesn't surprise anyone anymore with his superhuman abilities, but seeing him continue to put up strong numbers even without Brian Rafalski passing him the puck from the opposite point, we can't help but be reminded of how good this guy really is.