Last night, Damien Brunner collided with Mark Fristic in the left corner of Anaheim's zone. It looked to be a routine play; Fristic throwing a check. Until Brunner immediately fell to the ice. He initially tried to start crawling but the nearby referee whistled the play dead. He was helped off the ice while putting no weight whatsoever on his right leg. He would not return to the game, which ended in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Today, the result of the medical evaluation came out and it was right to the point. Brunner will be out with at least four weeks with his knee injury.
Rich Chere reported the grim news at NJ.com this morning. To me, the key word from Lou's terse statement was "minimum," as in it's possible it could be longer. I'm hoping it's not but one never knows with how recovery goes. The play itself wasn't malicious from what I understood of it. Brunner's knee just got pinned the wrong way between Fristic's and the boards. I can't imagine Fristic intended to do that. Even if he did, the timing and positioning had to be exact. A split-second change in timing or if either party turned ever so slightly and it could have been just a common check we see several times in a game with no one worse for wear. But in the blink of an eye, an otherwise ordinary check turned up awful. It happens in any kind of sport and it still hurts. At least, Brunner will not need surgery according to Chere's report. That is as much of a positive as one could take out of this. It's still bad news.
In addition to his pain and the reality that he won't be hitting the ice for quite a while, Brunner was blooming in recent games. He was on a surge of his own. After weeks of invisible play and getting scratched while healthy on a few nights, Brunner was making himself known on the ice. He was skating harder, he was more active around the net, and he shot the puck a lot more. After breaking a five week goalless stretch, Brunner has scored four goals and put up an assist in his last four full games. He took 13 shots in those four games, after taking only 27 shots during his 16 game scoreless (and only one measly assist) streak. Brunner was playing at a level fans expected from him in the past few games. I'm sure Brunner had more fun in those games than just floating out there and doing little more than taking offensive zone penalties in prior weeks. Now all that has abruptly ended. There's no positive in that sense.
The Devils' offense as a whole takes a hit from this injury. While Brunner could have been just getting a hot, the Devils can use all of the streaks they can get. Brunner isn't David Clarkson and despite his month-plus lackluster run, he's second on the team with 70 shots on net. Only Jaromir Jagr, Eric Gelinas, and Andy Greene have attempted more shots than Brunner according to Extra Skater. And each of those three play more often than Brunner. The Devils are currently dead last in the NHL in shots per game. (Also: attempts per game.) Partially as a result of that, they are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. While Brunner wasn't a key part of the team's success, an active and shooting Brunner like he did in his past four full games was definitely appreciated. It took some of the pressure of the Zajac line to produce regularly; some of the pressure off the goalies to be great every night (Brodeur's 91.4% and Schneider's 90.7% even strength save percentages aren't great); and some of the pressure off the coaches with two "full" lines producing. Brunner's recent play was undoubtedly useful. He was contributing in areas the Devils have lacked in as a team. Now they have to make due to when he was doing little of consequence for most of November.
Here's to hoping some other forwards manage to pick up the pace. Michael Ryder will likely get the first shot at playing alongside Patrik Elias in Brunner's spot. While, like Brunner, he's an offensive winger, can he manage to do the same things? And who fills in what he's done in the bottom six? Are the goalies are ready to perform better now that the offense has suffered a loss in personnel? Can the Devils really make due without Brunner for about a month? I want to know what you all think about that and Brunner being out for four weeks in the comments. Thank you for reading.