BY MITCH STACY
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The winter has been cruel to the injury-riddled Columbus Blue Jackets.
Three of the team’s top forwards and a defenseman went down in December, followed by another key forward this month. Coach John Tortorella has moved players around and patched together lines with help from the team’s AHL affiliate in Cleveland. The lack of depth has been evident.
Without last year’s top scorer, Cam Atkinson, and centers Brandon Dubinsky and Alexander Wennberg, the Blue Jackets limped to a 6-7-2 record in December. Rookie winger Sonny Milano was hurt in the win over Toronto on Jan. 8.
Even with Wennberg back in the lineup, the Blue Jackets lost back-to-back games to two of the league’s worst teams, Buffalo and Vancouver, before limping into their NHL-mandated five-day break at 3-3 for the month. They were hanging on to second place in the rough Metropolitan Division and start back up again Thursday at home against Dallas.
Atkinson, with a fractured foot, and Dubinsky, who had his eye socket broken in a fight Dec. 12, will be out until mid-February or later.
“We lick our wounds and get back to work and try to get things straightened out,” Tortorella said. “We just have to reset ourselves here and try to find our way.”
Columbus hasn’t been the only NHL team to endure injuries to significant players in the first half. Other players around the league also have been suffering:
MARK SCHEIFELE, C, WINNIPEG JETS
The Jets’ No. 1 center had 15 goals and 23 assists for 38 points when he went out with an upper-body injury on Dec. 27. Winger Brandon Tanev, who was having a breakout season, went down two days later, and one of Winnipeg’s second-line defenders, Toby Enstrom, has been out since Nov. 18. Still, the Jets were among the leaders in the Central Division behind Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and others.
CHRIS KREIDER, LW, NEW YORK RANGERS
The blazing 26-year-old forward had career highs of 28 goals and 53 points last season and had 11 goals in 37 games before being sidelined indefinitely with a blood clot in his right arm. He left a game Dec. 27 and was hospitalized. The injury was a major blow to the Rangers, who are in a tight race for a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. No word on when he could return.
FILIP FORSBERG, LW, NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Forsberg’s 325 consecutive-game streak was snapped Dec. 29 when he went down with an unspecified upper-body injury. He was leading all Predators in scoring at the time with 15 goals and 19 assists through 37 games. The team says he will miss up to eight weeks. The 23-year-old Forsberg was critical in the Preds’ run to the Stanley Cup finals last year. He has led or tied for the team lead in goals each of the past three seasons and has scored at least 31 goals in each of the past two. Forsberg skated separately from his teammates Monday’s practice.
JEFF CARTER, C, LOS ANGELES KINGS
The star forward played just six games this season before he suffered a skate-blade cut on his ankle that required surgery. He is out indefinitely. Carter had 32 goals and 34 assists last year in his highest-scoring season since 2011. The injury strained the team’s depth at center, but the Kings remain in playoff contention behind Vegas in the Pacific Division. Carter reportedly is not close to being able to skate again.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have continued to flourish despite early injuries to three stoppers. Marc-Andre Fleury, Malcolm Subban and Oscar Dansk all went down in a 10-game stretch in October. Fleury and Subban have returned the lineup, but Dansk remains out. The Florida Panthers lost starter Roberto Luongo to injury Dec. 4, and a lower-body injury has kept Colorado’s No. 1 stopper, Semyon Varlamov, out since Jan. 2. Tampa backup Peter Budaj went on injured reserve Dec. 29, and Chicago backup Corey Crawford also is on IR.
GAME OF THE WEEK
The Vegas Golden Knights visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night in a battle of top-scoring teams and conference leaders. Tampa Bay has the league’s top scorer in Nikita Kucherov and one of the hottest goalies in Andrei Vasilevskiy. Former Blue Jacket William Karlsson is having a breakout season for the Knights.
Through Monday’s games: Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 28; Assists: Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia), 45; Points: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 60; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 27; Goals-against average: Carter Hutton (St. Louis), 1.84; Save percentage: Hutton, .940.
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