The hits – and breaks – just keep on coming for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Nathan Horton's degenerative back condition may cost him his career. Ryan Murray missed the first three weeks with a lingering knee injury. Boone Jenner broke his hand. Brandon Dubinsky had abdominal surgery. Nick Foligno sustained a stinger in a dangerous collision on the weekend. Matt Calvert landed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Cam Atkinson got cut across his eyelid and cheek by a skate and needed 40 stitches.
Despite all the maladies piling up, the Jackets and their fans could take solace in the fact they had Sergei Bobrovsky. He was the great equalizer, having posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .925 save percentage across 104 appearances since joining the Blue Jackets in 2012-13. He almost carried a talent-thin team to the playoffs two seasons ago, winning the Vezina Trophy.
For the second straight year, however, 'Bob' will miss a meaningful chunk of time. He fractured a finger Monday when a puck hit him during practice. The team hasn't indicated exactly how it happened. The initial prognosis is just 1-2 weeks, which isn't too bad at all, but it seems overly optimistic for a goaltender. You need that finger to be tip-top any time pucks fly toward it. The short timetable suggests it's just a hairline fracture and/or an injury to a non-significant digit (i.e. blocker hand instead of catching hand).
Still, it's another maddening blow to what was an extremely promising Columbus team. Our pre-season predictions had the Jackets second in the Metro, comfortably in the playoffs. I personally had them reaching the conference final. They had a ton of grit, emerging young talent on offense, a great goalie and an underrated blueline.
The good news is that most of the injuries aren't overly serious. Columbus treaded water when Bobrovsky missed 12 games with a strained groin last season and still made the playoffs. His absence should be shorter this time around. And the Jackets' upcoming schedule is outstandingly forgiving: home games against Ottawa and Toronto, a decent test at New Jersey, and a home-and-home with (giggle) Carolina. The mounting injuries will also let GM Jarmo Kekalainen and the Jackets brain trust give extended looks to some of their youngsters. Elite prospect Alexander Wennberg, Future Watch's No. 9 overall player, got the call to The Show when Calvert hit the I.R., and Anton Forsberg, who will replace Bobrovsky on the active roster, had sparked thus far with Springfield in the American League.
So while the landscape looks bleak for Columbus right now, this storm is weatherable. Everyone has a fighting chance in the East, even banged up teams like this one. The Jackets probably just have to lower their standards. Playoffs? Sure. But a division crown looks like a pipe dream.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin