SUN Hockey Pool

The strain game

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

How's your groin?

It's fast becoming one of the most frequently asked questions in the National Hockey League as more and more players are having to ice in places they're really rather not ice.

Steve Sullivan, Scott Thornton, Vesa Toskala, Sergei Fedorov, Kari Lehtonen, Mike Dunham, Glen Wesley, Jon Klemm, Marian Gaborik, Jason Woolley, Robert Esche, Rod Brind'Amour, Dainus Zubrus, Ty Conklin, Jeff Friesen, Olaf Kolzig, Tyler Bouck, Sergei Gonchar and Brian Boucher are either out with groin injuries or came back from them in the last week.

You can triple that list if you list all the guys who've missed time since early October.

"I can't believe how many guys are out with them,'' said Detroit netminder Manny Legace, one of five Wings, including Chris Osgood, Mathieu Schneider and Steve Yzerman, who've limped off the ice with pulls, tears and strains. "Every day it's somebody else.''

There are a litany of reasons why, from a year-long work stoppage to a faster game upon the NHL's return, but few solutions.

"Everything tightened up after a year and a half off,'' said Legace.

"Guys get a year older, a lot of guys didn't play. You've been doing it your whole life, so your muscles tend to contract. And a lot of guys were going hard off the git-go.

"But there's not much you can do about it other than stretch, try to keep up and hope you don't get hurt.''

Schneider says a faster game and slower ice has become a risky combination.

"Something that's been really ignored has been ice quality this year,'' he said, adding it might not be an accident that Edmonton hasn't had any groin pulls this year, other than Conklin, who hurt his in Hamilton.

"Edmonton has consistently had one of the best ices in the league, which helps. But if you look around the league at the ice we're playing on night in and night out, the conditions are worse than they've ever been.

"Maybe I just forgot about how bad it was over the year-long lockout, but it's that much harder just to move out there. And the game is being played at such a high pace now, in my eyes that's one of the things they've really overlooked with the competition committee.''

More action around the net also has the goalies scrambling for the trainer's room.

"When you see the groin pulls, when you see these (leg muscle) injuries, it's from the scrambles all over the place,'' said Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock.

"The goalie is having to work twice as hard side to side. There's more bizarreness around the net, the second, third and fourth shots, where goalies are getting hurt.

"Now you can't box out, and now he's looking at second and third shots. That's how Brodeur got hurt. On a penalty kill, he had to go twice from side to side and on the second time around he hurt his knee.''

Legace got steamrolled by Matthew Barnaby, which is another issue altogether.

"With the new rules, guys are running right through the crease,'' he said, breathing a sigh of relief that Brodeur has been added to the competition committee to address goaltender safety.

"With no holdups, they're coming in full tilt and we're getting the full blow.''

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ICE T'S TOP FIVE

Top five GMs who would like to do it all over again:

5 - MIKE KEENAN: The Panthers expected more than seven points for the $4.5 million they invested in oldtimers Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts.

4 - DARRYL SUTTER: Hard to argue with how Calgary's going, but how scary would the Flames be with L.A. scoring leader Craig Conroy in the lineup?

3 - JAY FEASTER & DALE TALLON: Tampa needs netminding and the notoriously tight Blackhawks aren't getting $6.75 million of saves from Nikolai Khabibulin.

2 - LOU LAMORIELLO: $3.6 million for Vladimir Malakhov (minus-10, six points) and $3.5 for Alexander Mogilny (13 points, a healthy scratch last week).

1 - LARRY PLEAU: His hands might have been tied by his previous mistakes, but keeping Keith Tkachuk and ditching Chris Pronger and Pavol Demitra was a fatal mistake.

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ICE T'S TEAM OF THE WEEK

C - MARC SAVARD (Thrashers): Twelve points in his last four games for a mediocre team.

LW - PAVOL DEMITRA (L.A. Kings): Four assists on Sunday, three more on Wednesday.

RW - ALEXANDER FROLOV (L.A. Kings): Follows a hat-trick against Columbus with three assists in Vancouver.

LD - LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY (L.A. Kings): Plus-seven, and a whisker away from his second hat-trick of the year.

RD - JONI PITKANEN (Flyers): Points in 11 of his last 12 games for the streaking Flyers.

G - MARTIN GERBER (Hurricanes): Four goals against in last four games, including 2-1 win over Ottawa.

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ICE T'S QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I've got to know who the bosses are. They call the shots, they're the kings.''

- Sean Avery, after the NHL fined him $1,000 for diving - and $1,000 for griping about being fined for diving.


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