For those of us in the world who actually like and watch hockey, specifically the Detroit Red Wings, this scene is all too familiar. The Wings have been ravaged recently by injuries. First, the season started with veteran Kris Draper on the IR with sports hernia surgery. Then, it was Mike Modano, who had ligaments in his wrist severed by an opponent's skate blade. That loss wasn't devastating, as the Wings still had plenty of firepower.
But then, the hockey gods turned on the Wings. In a hurry, Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Stuart, Dan Cleary, Chris Osgood, Jimmy Howard, Valtteri Filppula, and Tomas Holmstrom all fell victim to freak, and in some instances controversial (see: Stuart) injuries. Filppula has since returned to the lineup to regain some sense of stability, but the other players are major cogs to this team's success.
For instance, the combination of Datsyuk, Cleary, and Holmstrom have combined for 39 goals and 48 assists - 87 points. Add in the fact that Modano had 8 points in 20 games and was just starting to click with linemates Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary and you've lost a lost of offense.
The other problem is on the other end of the ice. Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood were supposed to be the goaltending tandem to lead this team to the promised land. Instead, Chris Osgood is out for another month-and-a-half or so with groin issues, meaning Joey MacDonald, a journeyman career minor leaguer, is backing up Howard. To make matters worse, Howard then took an errant shot off his knee, meaning he's out for the next few games. The two goalies have accounted for 27 wins this year and have a combined 9.05 save % and 2.8 goals against average. That hurts.
Here's where the hockey gods really get cruel. Because Howard is out, the Wings called up yet another Grand Rapids Griffin, Thomas McCollum, to back up MacDonald. McCollum, the Wings' first-round pick, 30th overall, in the 2008 NHL Draft, shouldn't have sniffed NHL ice for another 2-3 years. But here he is, thrust into emergency backup duty. His reward for his first call-up? He took a shot in morning practice before yesterday's game against the Penguins that injured a finger, prohibiting him from backing up MacDonald. Preliminary reports said the finger was broken, but luckily X-rays showed no broken bone. But still, come on!
This is starting to look like a carbon copy of the way the Wings' season went last year. They get out to a hot start, then start dropping like flies. To look on the bright side of things, the Griffins who have been called up to the NHL (Tomas Tatar, Jan Mursak, Joey MacDonald, and I'm still going to count Jakub Kindl) have performed very well and given the club a little jump. But bottom line is this: You can't expect to lose seven NHL regulars who have a combined 13(!) Stanley Cup rings and keep on the same pace as you were with them.
The ultimate goal here is to make the playoffs and be healthy for the playoff run. One way of looking at this slew of injuries is that you'd rather it happen now than in late March and ruin the team for the playoffs. Mike Modano, who some thought would not be back at all this year, is now saying he'll be ready in March and play in the playoff run. All the other players should be healthy for the playoffs as well. Assuming nobody else gets injured, the rest the injured players are getting might actually help. But that's also what we said last year, and we all know how that playoff run turned out.
The challenge that the Wings now face is keeping up with the other top-3 teams in the Western Conference - Vancouver and Dallas. The Wings hold a healthy 6-point lead on the 2nd place team in their division, and have played the least amount of games of any in-division team. This will undoubtedly help going down the stretch. The primary aim is to win the division. That would ensure home-ice for at least some of the playoffs. That will be a pretty tall task, however. This year, just like last year, the Wings don't have the luxury of having that "get away from the cops" gear. And once the cops do catch them, they don't have enough to bail them out. Right now, the Wings are in hockey jail.