Injury bug in full season

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

At the halfway mark of the NHL season, two possible Stanley Cup heirs have hit roadblocks.

Injuries -- "every good team's nightmare", in the opinion of Teemu Selanne -- have bitten the once unassailable Anaheim Ducks. The losses of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Chris Pronger, Francois Beauchemin and Todd Marchant had contributed to four consecutive losses before last night's game against the Detroit Red Wings.

All four are tricky ailments, abdominal strain (Marchant), groin (Giguere), broken foot (Pronger) and lacerated spleen (Beauchemin).

"This is our first set of injuries, a test of our character," coach Randy Carlyle said.

The Buffalo Sabres have been struggling on special teams, giving up three power-play goals to the Ottawa Senators, two to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday and two to the Maple Leafs in a game they almost blew on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Senators are pumped after hanging four regulation losses on the Sabres this year, almost half Buffalo's total defeats.

"Maybe it's (getting eliminated by Buffalo in) the playoffs last year, maybe it was the way they got off to a hot start," Sens' Dany Heatley said. "But we know how explosive they could be and how dangerous their three lines could be."

The Carolina Hurricanes have eight of 12 games at home this month, many of them 'beatable' teams not currently in the top eight. They started a key homestand Saturday by beating the N.Y. Islanders 4-2.

"This has to be our month," forward Justin Williams said. "This has to be a month where we solidify, and I guess, re-establish ourselves atop the Eastern Conference."

COMEBACK CENTRAL

The three Central Division clubs who changed coaches within a few weeks of each other have all improved and none can be counted out of a playoff spot just yet.

"Columbus' structure is better than it was," new Chicago coach Denis Savard noted of counterpart Ken Hitchcock's role with the Blue Jackets. "And St. Louis (now under Andy Murray's charge) has a neutral zone better than it was. Now they're more compact and it's tough to penetrate."

The Blues finally gave up a first-period goal on Saturday in a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators, having tied an NHL record by going 12 games with opening period shutouts.

GET OUT OF JAIL FREE

San Jose Sharks rookie Ryan Clowe's hat trick against Columbus on Saturday included a first-period goal when he should have been in the penalty box. He and Blue Jacket Manny Malhotra mistakenly were released after a Sharks power-play goal, instead of Jackets' Rostislav Klesla .

Clowe scored on a 5-on-4 rebound. The officials admitted their error to Columbus coach Hitchcock before the second period according to a statement from NHL officiating director Stephen Walkom.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Philadelphia Flyers' Peter Forsberg continues to try different skateboot implants, meeting once again with doctors at Temple University Hospital and Boston-based foot specialist Dr. Thomas Gill this week. Forsberg, out with another groin-related injury, is not sure that off-season surgery to correct the angle of his right foot has worked ... About the only notable thing about Marian Gaborik's return to the Minnesota Wild lineup on Saturday was that his father got to see him before flying home to Slovakia ... Olli Jokinen of the Florida Panthers has switched to a visor after taking what he estimated were 40 stitches since the lockout ended ... The Phoenix Coyotes have been assured by Alexei Kaigorodov's agent Anton Thun that the prospect will return to the NHL, likely for training camp. Kaigorodov balked when the Ottawa Senators demoted him and went home to Russia. Phoenix acquired him for Mike Comrie last week ... When Calgary met the Panthers on Thursday it was their first meeting since Jan. 10, 2004. In almost three years, the winning Calgary goalie that night, Jamie McLennan, went to the Rangers, Panthers and back to the Flames.

GAINEY LOOKS FOR ANSWERS

General manager Bob Gainey is back in the Canadiens' office after visiting the tall ship from which his daughter Laura was swept overboard and lost in a storm in December. The Picton Castle docked in Grenada last week, though it's unclear when Gainey went to see the vessel and speak to the crew about the circumstances of Laura's death.

She was not wearing a life jacket nor was secured to the deck when a large wave hit. A memorial service was held on the weekend in Peterborough.

THE WEEK AHEAD

NHL governors and general managers will get a look at proposed realigned divisions for feedback purposes ... Final fan voting for the all-star game will be announced shortly.


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