LOS ANGELES – This, for the record, is not adversity.
It’s not simply a stroke of bad luck either.
It’s just hockey.
After going most of the season relatively unscathed by injuries, the Calgary Flames could very well face off against their closest divisional rival in L.A. Monday without four regulars in their lineup.
It’s a departure from the norm for a Flames club that has had very little experience with injuries compared to the rest of the league.
No team in the NHL comes even close to having as much luck as the Flames have had in terms of staying healthy this season.
The numbers, quite frankly, are shocking.
For most teams, being down just four players would be a luxury.
The Kings, for example, have been ascending the standings of late with seven players on the shelf, including Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty and captain Dustin Brown.
The four Flames on the mend include two fourth liners (Sean Monahan and Brett Ritchie), a third liner (Calle Jarnkrok) and fourth defenceman Oliver Kylington.
None of their absences could hardly provide the Flames with an excuse as they head into the opener of a four-game roadie through California and Seattle.
Nor is anyone suggesting the absence of any of them in Saturday’s loss played a significant role in the team’s third loss in a row.
Yes, this is where the team’s depth and resolve get tested.
But the only reason such depth injuries are even talked about in Calgary is that they have been such a rarity.
According to SportsnetStats, the Flames have lost only 54 man games due to injury this season, based largely on ailments to Tyler Pitlick and Ritchie.
To put that in perspective, the second-ranked team in that category (Dallas) has lost more than twice that number of games (111).
The Kings have lost 372 games to sit ninth in the league, yet they’ve managed to climb within three points of the Flames, albeit with three extra games played.
The league’s most unfortunate squad, Montreal, has lost 641 man games, while Pacific division opponents like Arizona and Vegas have lost 460 and 440 respectively to sit fourth and fifth.
That’s more than eight times as many man games lost than the Flames.
Add this to the list of incredible, league-leading stats for the Flames: the team’s top five scorers have appeared in all 68 games to date, and nine of the top ten have yet to miss a single game due to injury.
In that department they are the envy of the league.
There’s an outside chance one or more of their injured players could be back for tonight’s game, as Kylington is listed as day-to-day following a head-first crash into the boards Thursday. Jarnkrok missed Saturday’s loss due to an illness and Ritchie’s situation hasn’t been addressed since his leg was pinned awkwardly under a defender late Saturday, prompting him to need assistance skating off.
The Flames didn’t skate Sunday, so no update was available.
Perhaps Darryl Sutter’s increased emphasis on fitness last summer has played a small role in the team’s good fortune health-wise.
Either way, this organization has been blessed for years, with the exception of Sean Monahan, whose season ended early this week for the second year in a row due to hip surgery.
The team’s good fortune health-wise has given Sutter the luxury of having both continuity and flexibility on his top three lines and all three defensive pairings – something few other coaches experience this late in a season.
A big part of the success of the team’s revamped defence this season is the fact you can count on one hand how many games Flames defencemen have missed due to injury – by far the fewest in the league.
Michael Stone has proven to be a reliable replacement for Kylington, who has missed three games due to injury.
Pittsburgh is the only team that comes close at 28, followed by two teams in the 30s (the Rangers and Penguins).
Eighteen teams have lost 80 defensive man games, including Winnipeg (91), Edmonton (97), Vegas (127), Colorado (135), the Kings (177) and Vancouver (185).
It goes a long way toward explaining the success of a Flames team few figured had a chance to win the Pacific division.