The injury bug has struck the Ottawa Senators yet again. Less than a week after losing former Penguin Alex Kovalev for the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL, Ottawa announced on Thursday that Milan Michalek, who placed third on the team with 22 goals, suffered a full tear of his left ACL on Wednesday, meaning he too will be sidelined for the rest of the playoffs.
“He has had some injuries throughout the season, and we’ve been able to adjust,” Senators head coach Cory Clouston said. “It’s tough to replace a player like him, but we’ve had to in the past, and we’ll do it again.”
“Michalek was out for quite a while before and we were able to succeed,” said Jarkko Ruutu, another former Penguin. “It’s a team game. You don’t want to have guys missing games but sometimes that happens so you need others to step up.”
According to Senators general manager Bryan Murray, Michalek completely tore the knee sometime during the second and third period of Game 1. Michalek, who had missed nine-straight games between March 20-April 6, was wearing a brace on his knee and attempting to play through the pain after partially tearing the knee in mid-March.
“It’s obviously another big blow to our team,” Jason Spezza said. “He was obviously battling through it to play. It’s always tough to see guys get hurt. It’s never a good feeling in the room.”
Michalek, who picked up two goals and an assist against the Penguins during the regular season, becomes the third high-profile Senator to miss this Quarterfinal series. Defenseman Filip Kuba, Ottawa’s top-scoring blueliner with 28 points (5G-23A) in 53 games during the regular season, is also out after undergoing back surgery for a herniated disk.
“It’s hard to fill in for top players,” Murray said. “Milan is a top player. Kovalev is a top player. Kuba is a top player. We will probably miss Kuba as much as anybody on the back end. He was such a poised, offensive type of guy for us that made everybody else up front look better.
“When you go into a playoff with key people hurt it makes it more difficult. The fortunate part with this group is we have some young people who look like they have made some nice strides over the course of time.”
Among Ottawa’s younger players who have stepped up over the course of the season are a pair of rookies who were instrumental in leading the Senators to a 5-4 victory over the Penguins in Game 1 – 19-year-old rearguard Erik Karlsson and 23-year-old center Peter Regin.
Karlsson notched a goal and an assist while Regin tallied Ottawa’s opening goal during their National Hockey League postseason debuts.
“Our depth is what has been our strongest suit all year,” Spezza said. “This is when you really need everybody.”
Along with continued production from Karlsson and Regin, Ottawa will also be counting on secondary scoring from the likes of Nick Foligno and Ryan Shannon.
The former had a strong showing against Pittsburgh during the regular season, picking up a goal and three helpers in three contests, while the latter is a former Stanley Cup champion with the Anaheim Ducks back in 2006.
While Clouston was vague (which seems to be a trend for all coaches at this time of the year) on who would take Michalek’s spot in the lineup, Murray accidently let the secret slip during his media conference when he anointed Shannon as the most likely candidate.
Shannon, a 5-foot-9, 171-pound winger who was a scratch for eight of the Senators’ last 10 games leading into the postseason, hopes to keep his game simple on Friday.
“You want to stay away from trying to press to get on the board right away,” Shannon said. “You want to play a solid game, reduce turnovers and stick to the structure.”
Although Shannon’s season totals – five goals and 16 points in 66 games – do not befit those of a prolific goal scorer, his teammates believe he can do the job filling in.
During a rash of injuries earlier in the season Shannon found himself earning top-line minutes. He responded by picking up seven points (4G-3A) during a five-game stretch in late December.
“Guys have been needed in different situations,” Spezza said. “At one point Shanny was on our first line and then he was out of the lineup. Now he will be back in playing an important role. We are fortunate we have had guys play those roles the entire year.”
“Shanny is a speedy little guy with a lot of skill who can score,” Ruutu said. “He has Cup experience. He won a Cup in Anaheim so he knows what it is like.”