When the Phoenix Coyotes laced up their skates before Wednesday night's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they were already missing two vital cogs to the team in center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Rusty Klesla. Both were scratched with lower-body injuries and are classified as day-to-day.
Then, nine minutes into the game, goalie Mike Smith removed himself from the game after suffering what was also classified as a lower-body injury. Smith is day-to-day according to the Arizona Republic.
While the Coyotes looked more like themselves in Wednesday night's game, putting together a fantastic effort that saw them completely outplay a Columbus team on both ends of the ice, they do not need a rash of injuries, especially at the goalie position.
While Jason LaBarbera came in and did an admirable job this evening in relief of Smith, he is not an everyday answer at the goaltender position. If Smith misses an extended period of time, it could really hurt the Coyotes and their chances of making the playoffs in this shortened season.
Every game counts more when there are fewer of them, and the Coyotes leave for San Jose Wednesday night not knowing whether their backbone is going to be in place for a brutal four-game stretch that sees them play San Jose, L.A., Nashville and Edmonton to end the month.
Hanzal and Klesla's returns are also uncertain. This hurts the Coyotes up the middle and on the back end. Hanzal plays in every facet of the game and is really good in the faceoff circle, while Klesla has proved extremely valuable playing critical minutes for the Desert Dogs.
Wednesday night's game did feature some encouraging news. Steve Sullivan's hat trick was well deserved for a player who hustles all over the ice and found himself in quality scoring positions as the night went on.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson continues to prove why he is one of the best young defensemen in the league, as his defensive play was stellar. His ability to skate well leads him to excel in transition, which allowed him to score his two goals Wednesday night.
Michael Stone filled in admirably for Klesla, playing physically and contributing on special teams. His puck movement and positioning were very good in this game.
Derek Morris looked to have a little extra spring in his step, as he is out to redeem himself after having a poor season last year. He looked as good as I have seen him in the past two seasons.
All in all, the Coyotes will take the win gladly, but the health of key guys as they head out on the road has to be a major concern moving forward in the short season. Getting Smith back ASAP will be crucial to the hopes the franchise has for making the playoffs.