Tomas Vanek may lead the way in NHL scoring in the early days of this shortened NHL season, but you won’t find what promises to be the most important stat this season among the goals and assists and goaltending numbers.
It’s injuries, and man-games lost to injuries. Lose a guy for a month during an 82-game campaign and that’s one thing. But that lineup deletion means a lot more when the season only stretches from mid-January to the end of April.
The defending champion L.A. Kings have lost hardnosed blueliner Matt Greene for the season. Colorado winger Steve Downie is apparently gone for the campaign with a knee problem. Phoenix goalie Mike Smith, the be all and end all with that hockey club, left in the first period with a “lower body” injury Wednesday night, and the seriousness of that hurt isn’t yet known.
The Leafs, meanwhile, welcomed back blueliner Jake Gardiner from a neck/concussion injury on Wednesday night only to lose winger Joffrey Lupul to a fractured forearm after being struck by a Dion Phaneuf shot.
Lupul misses almost all of 2010 with complications from back surgery. Last year, he suffered a shoulder injury that ruined what was a career season. He was so intent on making this season a good one he decided not to join Canada at the world championships, preferring instead to rehab his shoulder.
Now this. Hey, that’s hockey. The Leafs, at least, have some depth on the wing they can call upon if necessary, with Matt Frattin just a call away with the Marlies. Wednesday night’s game saw the first offensive flashes from James Van Riemsdyk, and Phil Kessel’s sure getting lots of quality chances, isn’t he?
But at the same time, the Leafs aren’t the deepest team in hockey, and the loss of a player like Lupul will be felt, as much or more as Greene or Downie or Smith. Heck, the Detroit Red Wings seem to be losing a defenceman a day, and Vancouver has yet to see Ryan Kesler or David Booth.
Keep your eye on the injury lists, folks. That’s where this NHL season may be won or lost.