Cory Clouston is facing the biggest challenge of his NHL coaching career starting tonight in Buffalo: Winning without captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Alfredsson, who suffered a suspected separated shoulder after a hit from Penguin Craig Adams in the first period of Wednesday’s 8-2 loss in Pittsburgh, said he’ll be out “for weeks” following the defeat.
However, the Swedish newspaper Expressen reported Christmas Eve, after Alfredsson had seen team doctors, that he’ll be out four weeks but his chances of playing for Sweden in Olympics are not in jeopardy.
An official update will be provided this morning at the HSBC Arena, but there’s no reason to question the accuracy of the Swedish report. Two league executives said separated shoulders usually take 3-6 weeks to heal, depending on the severity.
“I can’t say how long I will be gone, but it is weeks in all cases. There is no super-serious injury, but the clavicle and scapula have received a blow, so I need to rest for a while,” Alfredsson told Expressen.
While Clouston won’t celebrate his first year behind the Ottawa bench until Feb. 2, he hasn’t faced this kind of adversity since he took over. The Senators sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, but a single Ottawa loss combined with victories by the Rangers, Habs and Panthers would drop the Senators to 10th.
Already without centre Jason Spezza (knee) and winger Nick Foligno (knee), losing Alfredsson is a huge blow, especially when you consider the Senators’ record without him. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the start of the 2005-06 season, Ottawa is 6-18-1 (.260) when Alfredsson isn’t in the lineup.
That makes this a pivotal time in Clouston’s short tenure. It will be up to him to coax more from a depleted lineup that is already finding it difficult to score this season.
Alfredsson was stuck in a 12-game scoring slump before he was injured, but he’s still the Senators’ best player. He attracts a lot of attention from the opposition, which opens up space for his teammates and he’s still the main cog on the power-play and penalty-killing units.
He said the Senators have to soldier on without him.
“Given that we have Jason Spezza out until the Olympic break, this is no good for the team, but now the guys have to bite the bullet and try to win as many games as they can until we’re back,” said Alfredsson.
On the heels of the putrid Pittsburgh loss, that might be easier said than done.
“You can’t replace your captain. There’s no question about that,” said centre Mike Fisher. “We have to stick together as a team. Guys have to step up. It’s the same thing when we lost (Spezza). We need more desperation and we’ve got to play as a team.
“We’ve got to grind out games. Our top offensive guys are out. We’ve got to find ways to win and compete and battle. If we don’t play as a team, we’re not going to win.”
Losing Alfredsson can’t be used as an excuse.
“That’s a big loss. He’s definitely our leader and a key player on our team,” said goalie Pascal Leclaire. “We’re getting into the injury bug a little bit, especially with our key guys, but we’ve got good guys here and we’re all going to have to step it up a bit.
“We’re going to be all right. Every team goes through it. We’re going through it right now, but we’ll figure it out.”
The issue for the Senators is they were starting to get healthy. Wingers Chris Neil (knee), Shean Donovan (knee) and Leclaire (cheek), all returned against the Penguins.
“We were looking okay and then this happens. It just seems unfortunate,” said Fisher.