Thursday, April 15, 2010
Senators Bench Gets Less Crowded - Michalek Gone For Season
Bad news for the Senators as it was revealed today that winger Milan Michalek has completely shredded his ACL and will require surgery.
Questions will, and should be, asked about whether or not having Michalek return so quickly from his previous knee injury which he suffered mid-March, jeopardized the wingers season by playing on an obviously sensitive hinge. But it's the playoffs and it's admittedly hard to keep players off the ice, even if it's for their own good. Michalek gambled and lost. It happens all the time.
But if you're keeping count, that's three major players for the Senators unavailable for the rest of these playoffs, however long they last - Michalek, Alex Kovalev and defenseman Filip Kuba.
I wrote a piece a while ago that of all the top six forwards on this team, Michalek and Kovalev were the guys the Senators could most afford to lose and still have an ability to win. That was in a context of a healthy Kovalev and an injured Michalek who still had a chance to return. Never did I mull the possibility that both would be gone for good. That changes things considerably.
Losing Kovalev was one thing. The Senators still had 5 premier forwards and a couple of guys like Peter Regin and Nick Foligno just waiting for an opportunity to show what they could do. Now with Michalek gone as well, you're putting an awful lot of pressure on Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Matt Cullen and Mike Fisher to make a difference nightly. As we all know, in the playoffs, that's just not possible. Star players often get neutralized by incredibly tight checking and obsessively tended matchups from opposing coaches.
While Alfie and Spezza were relatively quiet in game one, it was the Chris Kelly line that did most of the damage, but they can't be expected to contribute 3 goals on a nightly basis, or even once more during the rest of these playoffs. If that line didn't step up unexpectedly, we're looking at a Senators loss in game one. Losing Kovalev and now Michalek just dwindled the scoring load by two players and the margin of error considerably.
The good news is that Regin looks like he'll have a fine run here, despite some poor penalties taken during game one. Foligno will need to step into Michalek's spot on the second line and show the form he had before he got injured late in the season. But he still looks like he's lost his hands. Time will tell.
Now you have guys like Ryan Shannon (even though it should be Shean Donovan) entering the lineup, and while he will provide some needed speed, he's basically had a throw-away season.
In essence, the Michalek injury just reduced the Senators to a three-line team.
To me, the only guy I'd have no problem throwing over the boards in most situations on that fourth line is Jesse Winchester. Before Michalek's injury, you had a nice balance with Foligno there beside greenhorn Zack Smith and Winchester. As it was, that line didn't see the ice much. Now that will be further reduced.
The Sens may get lucky here and not have the injuries affect them too much in the first round. If they can pull off the upset and get to round two, their top three lines will be in rough shape from the load they now have to bear.
A lot of times, winning in the playoffs comes down to luck. When both teams are even in skill and effort, it's usually who's missing that decides a series.
It's just one more set of odds the Senators will have to overcome to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions.