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The injury bug bites Habs hard

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist NHL Noise Hockey fans in Alberta are having a miserable start to their NHL season. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov created a little drama in Calgary this past week following a Flames loss to the New York Rangers that brought their record to 2-4-1 to start the season. He was asked about some of the issues from last season continuing into this season, with the subtext being that Coach Darryl Sutter had been released over the summer. “Now there’s no Darryl, so there’s no excuses, you know what I mean? You don’t like hard coaches. You don’t like soft coaches. You don’t like good coaches?” We can only guess who Zadorov was referring to, but GM Craig Conroy had better hope he didn’t mean fellow blueliner Noah Hanifin. The parties were reportedly close to a contract extension at press deadline, a marked shift from the summer rumours that Hanifin had made it known he would not be extending in Calgary. Things are no better in northern Alberta where the Edmonton Oilers were stringing losses together before they lost Connor McDavid to injury. The star centre was due to be out with an upper body injury for one to two weeks. That won’t be enough time to kill the season, but it will almost certainly be enough to shine a light on the lack of forward depth on the Oilers, particularly at centre. Of course, centre ice is only one place where the Oilers have question marks. Jack Campbell and Stewart Skinner have not exactly been Dryden and Tretiak, and the Norris Trophy is not likely to land in Edmonton next summer. The Montreal Canadiens continued to feel the wrath of the injury grim reaper this past week. This time, defenseman David Savard was the victim when he was injured in a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Savard was in the middle of a mammoth penalty kill that saw him lose his stick, block a shot with his forearm, and then another with his skate. Savard finished the kill, obviously hurting and missing a skate blade, before he left the game. The following day, the Canadiens announced that Savard would be out for six to eight weeks due to a fractured left hand. The announcement came with the blueliner sitting in the press box with the other walking wounded Habs — Kirby Dach, Kaiden Guhle, Christian Dvorak and Chris Wideman. Dvorak and Wideman are still yet to play a game this season. The loss of Savard poses an interesting dilemma for the Habs. There was a time when they were so flush with stay-at-home defenseman that losing one that might be replaced with a puck mover may have improved their D-core. But under this new leadership group, the blue line has shifted to favouring puck movers, and with Savard out the Habs lack anyone else who does exactly what he does. Ironically, it was during the penalty kill that Savard was lost. Fortunately, the Canadiens had received Gustav Lindstrom in the Jeff Petry trade this past summer and, while he’s not exactly cut in the Savard mold, he can bring more NHL experience than the other options available in Laval. In the meantime, the Habs are still carrying three goaltenders on their roster, and they may be tempted to move one to help replace Savard. The Shane Pinto situation in Ottawa got a little crazier this week. On Thursday the NHL announced they had suspended Pinto for 41 games for “activities relating to sports wagering”. The betting was apparently unrelated to NHL games, which raises questions about what Pinto did that came into conflict with the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. In their statement, the Senators did note that they support the NHL’s rules where gambling is concerned. I wonder if betting on the Toronto Maple Leafs next goal song is against the NHL rules. Pinto has yet to play one game for the Senators this season as a restricted free agent who has been unable to come to terms with his team. The Sens were reportedly trying to clear salary so they could sign Pinto, but it appears they won’t have to worry about that for a while. It’s unlikely that Pinto will be signed until he has completed his suspension, which buys significant time for the Sens to find a trade partner to relieve some cap stress. This wasn’t the only bad news for the Sens. On Thursday night, in a game against the New York Islanders, defenseman Erik Brannstrom was making a play along the boards when he sustained a clean hit from Cal Clutterbuck. It looked like Brannstrom took a hit to his head when he went down, and he did not get back up. The young defender was carried from the ice on a stretcher and transported to hospital. The Sens did report on social media that Brannstrom was alert and had use of his extremities. Here’s hoping the young man is all right and back to full health soon. The Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a strong start to their season with some noteworthy performances from the usual suspects. Auston Matthews had hat tricks in back-to-back games to kick off his year. William Nylander and John Tavares each had 11 points apiece in the opening seven games. Mitch Marner continues to climb the records charts. The guy that’s turning heads in Toronto, however, is Joseph Woll. He’s been splitting duties in net with Ilya Samsonov to begin the season, but if each of them continues on their current trajectories it won’t be an equal split for very long. In his starts, Samsonov has been rocking a goals-against average that’s hovered over four, while Woll was allowing just over a goal per game. It’s early, but it might be looking like the Leafs have found their starter. Drafted in the third round in 2016, Woll has been entirely developed in the Maple Leafs organization, and their patience is paying off. Raptors Racket The 2023-24 NBA regular season kicked off for the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, October 25th when they welcomed the Minnesota Timberwolves to Scotiabank Arena. Dennis Schroder, the point guard acquired to fill the void left by Fred VanVleet, made his mark with 22 points and seven assists. The outing made him the first player since Kawhi Leonard to score more than 20 points in his debut for the Raptors. Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes were also solid to deliver a 97-94 victory to their new coach Darko Rajakovic in his first NBA game after replacing Nick Nurse this summer. The win marked the beginning of a new Raptors era, and fans are hoping this is a sign of things to come.

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