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by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
Ankle sprain to sideline standout defender

Alexei Zhitnik said after practice at Islanders Iceworks this afternoon that he will likely miss the Islanders' final two games before the Olympic Break and have to sit out the Winter Olympic Games in Italy.

The Team Russia member said the ankle sprain he suffered Jan. 31 on the final shift of an Islanders victory over Washington has not healed sufficiently enough for him to compete in games. Zhitnik added that as much as he cherished playing in the Olympics, "I have to think long-term first for the Islanders and myself. That is what is fair."

Islanders and Team Russia teammate Alexei Yashin said his friend will be missed by both teams. "Z is one of our top guys on the blueline with the Islanders and on Team Russia," said Yashin. "But you have to respect his decision. He is thinking about the Islanders and what is most important."

Islanders head coach Brad Shaw allowed that the loss of Zhitnik complicates matters on the blueline. "Z chews up a lot of icetime and plays in all situations," said Shaw, who has employed seven defensemen in the last two games. "He is not someone who is easily replaced, but every team has injuries. It just underlines the fact that we need complete team efforts in Philadelphia and New Jersey."

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