Our first true test of the season isn't a certain opponent or a difficult road trip. It is battling the injury bug. These things are inevitable over the course of a long season, especially with the lunchpail style that Clouston has us playing. Each team battles the bug and so I'm happy to see the team isn't using it as an excuse for the complete bush league effort they put forth in Tampa on Thursday.
The test that will be presented to the team will be to see if our depth is just as good as we all think it is. The Michalek trade brought us two forwards (though only one of them has actually played so far this season...). Add this to the Kovalev signing and the emergence of Peter Regin as a decent player and we're advertising ourselves as a 4-line team that isn't nearly as top heavy as in the past.
Well, a pair of injuries are going to test just how deep we are. First, Jason Spezza is out (day-to-day) with what is believed to be a re-aggravated back injury. These things can be tricky and Clouston has eluded that this has been nagging Spezza since before the season. He has been ruled out for the Atlanta game Saturday and we aren't sure when he'll return. That means Ryan Shannon is pressed back into duty. After watching Thursday's game, it didn't feel like our 'depth' was quite where we thought it would be. Taking away one player, even if it is our most talented skater, shouldn't mean that the offence shuts down. I know it is one game and they travelled the night before, rah rah rah, so let's see how this goes in the next week.
When you take out Spezza, Kovalev floats all night, and Cheechoo has proven useless, the forward ranks seem to lack the depth we're praising. Fisher, Alfie, and Michalek have all looked solid all year long. Foligno really needs to step into a full-time role right now. Shannon needs to earn his icetime. Kovalev...ahhh, I have nothing to say about him. And Cheechoo, we're just hoping for any sign of life.
But the issues run back to the blueline, too. Anton Volchenkov is out a few weeks and not only does it mean we're missing our best shutdown player, it changes the makeup on the ice. First, the pairings get skewed and Campoli gets stuck playing with Brian Lee, who looked awful Thursday (full disclosure: I'm pulling for Lee, but he wasted a big opportunity in Tampa and stunk it up). It also means the forwards have to backcheck even harder because we don't have a warrior blocking the shots. Don't underestimate what A-Train does for the transition, as forwards don't all have to crash their own net and can focus on breaking out, knowing that the Russian will stick his body in front of anything.
The Volchenkov injury can expose a major weakness on the blueline. Phillips and Kuba isn't really a shutdown pair or a transition pair. I was hoping Carkner would get that spot with Big Rig so Kuba could stay with Campoli and spread out the task list. Instead, Campoli babysits Lee out there while Picard and Carkner hold their own in the third pairing (dare I say anything bad about Picard and risk feeling the wrath of canucnik).
Hey, I think we've got more depth than in years past. We roll four lines better than ever before. Our defencemen aren't quite up to snuff as we start leaning on four guys in the last 15 minutes, but they're getting by. But as long as Spezza and Volchenkov are out, our depth is tested. First assignment - facing a Thrashers team going through the same problem with Kovalchuk being out with the foot thingy. If the Sens are really capable of beating an opponent with all four lines, Saturday afternoon would be a nice time to show it off. Table is set. My guess is that Murray reaffirms his need for a better defenceman and realizes the forwards are good enough so long as they all show up to play.