How Injuries Are Affecting Teams During the Shortened NHL Season

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2013

Erik Karlsson's Achilles injury has not stopped the Ottawa Senators.
Erik Karlsson's Achilles injury has not stopped the Ottawa Senators.Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

All teams have injuries.

When they occur, they appear to be pivotal moments that can ruin the best teams' seasons. But as bad as it was for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they lost Sidney Crosby for half the 2010-11 season and the majority of the 2011-12 season, the NHL does not give any team a mulligan just because its best players get hurt.

The Penguins finished with 106 points in 2010-11 and 108 points in 2011-12.

Injuries are a fact of life in the NHL. The strongest teams find a way to survive despite the injuries they suffer, while weaker teams often end up using injuries as an excuse.

Case in point: the Ottawa Senators

The Senators have suffered a series of devastating injuries this year. They have lost defending Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (Achilles) for the season. They have also lost Jason Spezza (back), Milan Michalek (knee) and Craig Anderson (ankle) for long periods of time this season.

These injuries were expected to devastate the Senators and send them to the lower regions of the Eastern Conference, well out of playoff consideration. However, they have played sensational hockey, as head coach Paul MacLean has gotten more talent and energy out of his team than it seemed they could play with on a regular basis.

The Senators are in fifth place and are in no danger of missing the playoffs.

The Chicago Blackhawks have been the best team in the NHL this season, but they have not been immune to injuries. While they have not played as well in March as they did in the first two months of the season, they are still the team to beat in the Western Conference. Patrick Sharp (shoulder) is perhaps the team's best sniper. He has been out the majority of March. Marian Hossa has battled a series of upper-body injuries throughout the season.

The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens are battling for first place in the Northeast Division and second place behind the scorching Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference.

The Bruins were nearly devoid of injuries throughout the first two months of the season, but they have suffered a series of them in March. Chris Kelly is out with a broken leg, Adam McQuaid will probably miss the rest of the regular season with a shoulder injury and Johnny Boychuk has been battling a foot injury.

Head coach Claude Julien would never let his team use injuries as an excuse.

Neither would Montreal coach Michel Therrien. The Canadiens have been playing stellar hockey despite a series of injuries to Brandon Prust (shoulder), Yannick Weber (knee), Raphael Diaz (concussion), Rene Bourque (concussion) and Ryan White (knee).

Some teams don't have the ability to overcome injuries. The Florida Panthers have the longest injury list in the NHL and they are in last place in the Eastern Conference. General manager Dale Tallon understands how to rebuild a team prior to the trade deadline, but that option is not open to him this season because key players like Stephen Weiss (wrist), Kris Versteeg (knee) and Ed Jovanovski (hip) are out for the season.

Winning teams attempt to play the game by ignoring the pain and deficit caused by injuries. Eventually, they may catch up, but the best teams often can overcome the injury-related problems, at least during the regular season.

However, when poor teams suffer injuries, it creates a "what can go wrong next" attitude that impacts the locker room. If the coaches can't turn this attitude around quickly, a team can go into a tailspin.