“We have met the enemy – and he is us.”
The famous Pogo quote has never been more relevant than in the past couple of weeks in the NHL, with players taking some of the hardest licks from their own teammates.
Milan Michalek, the Ottawa Senators scoring sensation, was the latest to be felled by a fellow wearing the same colors – he suffered a concussion after colliding with defenceman Erik Karlsson during Tuesday’s 3-2 Senators overtime victory in Buffalo.
While Senators head coach Paul MacLean listed Michalek’s status as “day to day,” and said the speedy winger was feeling “way better” on Wednesday, the club will be following NHL protocol on Michalek’s recovery, meaning he could be out for a week or more as he eases his way back to action.
Michalek is the third NHL star to be knocked out of the lineup by his own teammate, if we include Sidney Crosby, who collided with fellow Pittsburgh Penguin Chris Kunitz on Dec. 5. On the same night, Crosby was hit by Boston Bruins forward David Krejci. Whether the Kunitz hit, the Krejci hit, or both, resulted in Crosby suffering concussion symptoms is not clear.
We do know how Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux suffered his concussion. He had fallen to the ice when teammate Wayne Simmonds accidently kneed him to the head.
As Karlsson said on Wednesday, players tend to let their guard down when the player in the vicinity is wearing the same uniform. Why not? They’re on the same side of the battle.
“You’re looking for blue (Sabres) jerseys,” Karlsson said, describing the collision with Michalek. “It’s unfortunate, there’s nothing you can really do about it.
“He didn’t see me, and I didn’t see him. We’re both pretty fast players.
“I looked left and there was no one there. It’s bad luck.”
The worst collisions are the surprise ones, Jason Spezza agrees.
“Sometimes it’s harder to get away from your own guys because you kind of get that ‘deer in the headlights look ‘ — nobody knows which direction the other guy’s gonna go,” Spezza said.
And so another top scorer hits the shelf. Organizers of the NHL All-Star Game festivities in Ottawa would be happy if some of these injured stars could just sit in an NHL Quiet Room to restore their health until the last weekend of January.
We always knew hockey was a small world, but this is getting ridiculous. Michalek’s own brother, Zbynek, is also concussed and has been out of the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup since Nov. 26. The Penguins and Senators meet on Friday in what should have been a meeting of the Michalek clan.
Now, there is at least a chance one of the Michalek’s could play. Zbynek said on Thursday he is targeting Friday’s game in Ottawa for his return to the Pittsburgh lineup. Crosby won’t likely be here, meaning the Senators will have hit the Bruins and the Penguins while both teams were missing their captain.
The familiar form of that Boston captain, Zdeno Chara, was carving deep ridges into the Scotiabank Place ice on Wednesday morning, but it was obvious Chara, skating alongside injured forward Jordan Caron, was still favoring the knee he hurt on Saturday. This wasn’t a case of running into an existing teammate, but a former one, as Chara, the ex-Senator ran into his former Ottawa teammate Antoine Vermette of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Chara remains “day to day.” The Big Zee was asked about the rash of concussions in the league, which have taken some of the game’s biggest stars out of action. Does he have a theory? Are there more incidents or are we just keeping track in a way that didn’t exist back in the “I got my bell rung” era?
“Maybe now everybody is more careful with head injuries, that’s the biggest difference,” Chara said. “Before, you had some headaches, or felt kind of dizzy, and it was just kind of normal. Today, trainers and players feel (any head injury) may be a little more serious, and nobody wants to risk it, so everybody is taking their time to make sure they are good before they play again.”
With Michalek out for a few games, the Senators will do what they can to replace a 19-goal man, hardly a slam dunk considering only two other Senators are in double figures in goals (Spezza and Nick Foligno).
“He leads the league in goals, so obviously he’s an important part of our team,” MacLean said of Michalek. “Like we always say, it’s an opportunity for someone to step up into that ice time.”
The immediate beneficiary is Bobby Butler, who was re-activated for the Bruins game after sitting out in Buffalo as a healthy scratch. On a line with Nick Foligno and Peter Regin, Butler played 10 minutes of the first 40 and had three shots on goal, including a terrific second period scoring chance that Bruins goaltender Thomas had the answer for.
In their first game minus Michalek, generating shots wasn’t an issue for Ottawa — getting shots past Thomas was the challenge.
email@example.com twitter.com/ @HockeyScanner