Playing concussion-free a relief for many NHLers
Nicklas Backstrom, Sidney Crosby, Horton rebound from forgettable 2011-12 season
It’s amazing how quickly rampant trade rumours can disappear in the National Hockey League.
In Toronto, four victories in eight starts and strong play from James Reimer has halted talk of Roberto Luongo flying in from Vancouver to be the answer to any of the Maple Leafs’ goaltending concerns.
Reimer, who was scheduled to make a fifth consecutive start on Monday against Carolina, had a 3-2-0 record in his first six games this season with a 2.47 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
Those numbers resemble the Reimer who burst on the scene in the 2010-11 campaign and put up 20 victories in 37 appearances with a 2.60 GAA and .921 save percentage rather than the netminder who missed 24 games with concussion-like symptoms after Montreal captain Brian Gionta knocked his mask off in a game on Dec. 3, 2011.
Reimer is one of many NHLers who have successfully returned this season from long absences due to concussions.
The following is an update on the performance of others:
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals: The high-scoring centre carried a four game points streak into this week after Sunday’s one-assist performance in a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh gave the Swede seven points in nine games. Backstrom had 44 points in 42 games last season before a head injury following a hit from Calgary’s Rene Bourque on Jan. 3 cost him 40 contests.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Wild: Concussions limited the diminutive winger to 97 games the previous three seasons, but he’s had a decent return in 2013 with two goals, including the 100th of his NHL career, and three points in eight games. A Zach Bogosian hit broke Bouchard’s nose on Dec. 13, 2011. He took an elbow against Vancouver less than a month later.
Sidney Crosby, Penguins: Sid the Kid has carried over his strong play from the 2012 playoffs when he had eight points in six games following his return from concussion-like symptoms. Pittsburgh’s captain is seventh in NHL scoring this season with 13 points in nine games. A year ago, Crosby was sidelined twice for a total of 60 games.
Patrick Eaves, Red Wings: The 28-year-old right-winger returned to action Jan. 21, almost 14 months after suffering a broken jaw and severe concussion when hit in the side of the face by a shot from Nashville defenceman Roman Josi on Nov. 15, 2011. Eaves has yet to score but has an assist in six games.
Simon Gagne, Kings: The left-winger has missed a couple of games this season as a healthy scratch, not because of post-concussion symptoms. Gagne, 32, was concussed on Dec. 26, 2011, when Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata checked him into the glass, knocking him out of action for 46 games. He has four assists in five outings this season.
Jochen Hecht, Sabres: It hasn’t been a memorable start to the 2013 season for the 12-year NHL veteran, but Hecht is probably just happy to be playing again after suffering a third concussion in 12 months on Jan. 21, 2012. The 35-year-old German missed 54 games and managed only eight points in 22 contests. Hecht has one point and a minus-3 rating in nine games this season.
Nathan Horton, Bruins: The Boston winger is back clicking with regular linemates David Krejci and Milan Lucic after missing 36 games, seven playoff contests and nearly a calendar year with a concussion. Horton, 27, has three goals and six points in eight games this season and had a five-game points streak snapped on Saturday in Toronto.
Marian Hossa, Blackhawks: Chicago's top scorer in the regular season a year ago was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs when Raffi Torres drove a shoulder into Hossa's head, causing him to be carted off the ice on a stretcher after suffering a concussion. Medically cleared in mid-November, Hossa was second in team scoring entering play Monday with a team-best six goals and 10 points in nine games.
Guillaume Latendresse, Senators: Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray took a gamble last summer by signing the free-agent power forward. Latendresse, 25, had played all of 27 games since the end of the 2009-10 season because of concussion and hip problems. So far, so good for the former Minnesota Wild left-winger, who has one assist in six games this season.
Andy McDonald, Blues: The good news, and most important news, is that the oft-injured centre has played in all eight St. Louis games this season. McDonald, who hasn't played a full season since the 2007-08 campaign, missed 51 games last season when he was hit in a scrum by teammate David Backes in a game on Oct. 12, 2011. He returned on Feb. 12 and thrived in the post-season with five goals and 10 points in nine games.
Kris Letang, Penguins: The tough, mobile puck mover hasn’t missed a beat after suffering a concussion after an open-ice hit and a second head injury last season. The 25-year-old blue-liner leads all Pittsburgh defencemen with eight points in nine games, putting Letang on pace for a career offensive season.
Peter Mueller, Panthers: After just eight games, the 24-year-old centre is just three goals shy of matching last year’s output over 32 starts. Mueller seems to have settled in with Florida, scoring four times after missing much of the past two seasons with a concussion. He returned to Colorado’s lineup last Jan. 12 after experiencing concussion symptoms three games into the 2011-12 campaign.
Joni Pitkanen, Hurricanes: Carolina head coach Kirk Muller is leaning heavily on the veteran defenceman as Pitkanen averaged 25 minutes, 53 seconds in his first seven games this season after being limited to 30 starts in 2011-12 due to a concussion. The 29-year-old was concussed on Dec. 6, 2011, and didn’t return to action until last March 21.
Marc Staal, Rangers: New York’s six-foot-four, 205-pound defenceman hasn’t shown any ill effects from a concussion sustained Feb. 12, 2012, on a crushing hit by his brother, Eric, of the Carolina Hurricanes. Marc, 26, returned to play 15 regular-season games and a first-round playoff series before missing the first 36 games of last season. He has a goal and four points in eight games this year.
Alex Steen, Blues: The 28-year-old centre has yet to score this season but his six points and a plus-5 rating through Sunday were a big reason St. Louis started the season with a 6-2-0 record. Steen missed 39 games a year ago with a concussion after suffering a head injury in a Dec. 26, 2011, game against Detroit.