Injuries and Milestones - The Spartans' Mid-Season Doldrumsby Sean Gallagher | March 8, 2019, 12:05 AM ET
It's hard to celebrate a personal milestone mid-season. Players will all say that - it's nice to be recognized, but winning games is what matters right now. Maybe in the offseason, yada yada yada.
And as the Spartans, one of the top four teams in the World Conference at this point, battle to collect every point possible in every game possible, their players are also accumulating personal records. Even if they aren't celebrating them.
Roman Polak, on his feelings as he nears the second-overall spot in games-played for the St. Louis franchise: "That is for another time, we are just trying to win games."
Clayton Keller, on surpassing "prospect status" and being in the Jari Kurri consideration as well as his remarkable zero PIM taken this year: "I'm just happy to be contributing. Our goal is a playoff run."
Zdeno Chara, on playing over 1500 SICHL games and surpassing 700 points and reaching plus-300: "We just want to win games."
Anze Kopitar, Frederik Andersen and Ryan Johansen on ... well, you get the point. This team is focused on winning. And in a ridiculously tough World Conference, that's appropriate. The top four teams in the Riders, Rapids, Revolution and Rartans, err, Spartans change places in the standings literally every day. Sparta has played more games than the others, so their position changes even when they don't play. The stress has taken a toll.
"I don't watch the standings," said team GM Gallagher, "Except that's not true. Total lie. I check literally every single day. Also, I check every hour at night while games are being played. Our division is nuts. Even the next four teams are so good - being a home team in the playoffs isn't that much of an advantage because I think our conference looks like Upset City when we get to the seven game series. I feel like every night of the regular season is a tough game because even the ninth and tenth spot teams are good. There aren't any easy nights."
Not helping? Injuries. Every team has had to deal with key players out of the lineup, so complaining about it is silly, but the Spartans have managed to play well despite extended abscences from Patrice Bergeron, PK Subban, Max Domi, Roman Polak, Jay Beagle, James Neal and now, recently-acquired backup goalie Carter Hutton. Hutton was hurt in his "grunge" match game against Seattle, the team that grabbed him in their expansion draft, made him their starter and then traded him to first-overall-draft-pick-contender Dublin.
Hutton was injured after saving a shot by Richard Panik, his teammate with the Grunge, who then crashed heavily into the netminder, leading to a groin injury that will keep him out of the lineup for the next three weeks.
"That's really unfortunate," said Gallagher, "We acquired Hutts as an insurance policy in case Freddy [Andersen] got hurt and now here he is injured by a former teammate acting a little overzealous after the whistle. We know he'll be back for the important part of the year, so, you know, whatever. But it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for our club if the standings somehow worked out that we got to play the newbies from Seattle in the playoffs."
"Because, as tough as it is, in this conference, any extra motivation to win a game can help."