It was going better than expected for the Calgary Flames, but the loss of their captain as well as one of their top forwards has thrown a dash of cold water on the team.
Captain and No. 1 defenceman Mark Giordano is out for six to eight weeks with a broken ankle. He took a shot off the right ankle in the second period of a road game Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 21. The Flames revealed the severity of his injury Tuesday.
"It's brutal," Giordano said. "You don't want to miss any time, but if you have to you're hoping it's something not as significant as that time frame."
Another shot broke a bone in the foot of winger Lee Stempniak last week in Dallas. His status is week to week. The lower right legs of both Flames were encased in plastic walking casts Tuesday.
"I feel like the team is playing well and to not be a part of it is tough," Stempniak said. "The swelling is going down so hopefully it's not too long."
Just above .500 and without a loss in regulation at home so far this season, the rebuilding Flames (5-4-2) were giving their fans reasons for optimism.
An unexpected bonus has been the performance of 19-year-old forward Sean Monahan, who is among the league's rookie scoring leaders with six goals and four assists in 11 games.
But for a team without stars and a squad that requires maximum effort to win, the Flames will have to drain their tanks for victories, particularly if Stempniak is out long term.
Giordano and Stempniak were tied for third in points on the team with nine each behind Monahan with 10 and Jiri Hudler with 13.
It's likely Giordano won't return to the lineup before his predecessor as Flames captain, Jarome Iginla, returns to Scotiabank Saddledome on Dec. 10 as a member of the Boston Bruins.
With defenceman Chris Breen day to day with an abdominal strain, the Flames had just six healthy defenceman Tuesday. Head coach Bob Hartley didn't seem to be in a hurry to summon reinforcements from Abbotsford, B.C.
Calgary hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday and the Detroit Red Wings on Friday before departing on a four-game road trip.
"I'm very comfortable," Hartley said. "We're not in back-to-back situations. We feel that it's important for our young players to play in the American League.
"If we'd had a back-to-back and Abbotsford far away from us we'd probably call up someone, but in this situation right now, we feel very comfortable."
Giordano says an initial scan of his ankle after the Kings game didn't reveal a fracture. He tried to skate the next day in Phoenix prior to facing the Coyotes, but pain forced him off the ice. A subsequent scan revealed the injury.
"One guy coming in and out of the lineup isn't going to change the way we play," Giordano said. "Guys have done a great job. I'd like to be around the guys as much as possible. Obviously being hurt you're not in it as much as when you're playing.
"You almost feel it's a letdown for the team, but there's nothing I can do about it now."
Calgary is 1-2 since Giordano was sidelined. Stempniak continued to play last Thursday in Dallas after a shot from teammate Dennis Wideman deflected hard off his skate boot.
"It's one of those things when it's not bad and your (foot) is in your skate and it feels all right and then it gets a little bit worse once you take your skate off," Stempniak explained.
The Flames were successful in their one game without both Giordano and Stempniak.
Calgary held Alex Ovechkin to zero points and defeated the Washington Capitals 5-2 last Saturday. Defencemen Wideman and Kris Russell were both plus-five in the game.
"Every player - you ask Derek Smith, you ask Shane O'Brien, you ask anyone on this team - if they want extra responsibility, the answer is pretty simple and very easy and it's 'yes,"' Hartley said. "It's up to you when you get that chance to really make the best of it.
"If one guy picks up a five per cent, another guy picks up a 10 per cent and 15 per cent, we might compensate and we have to find a way. No one feels sorry for us. We can't shut down."