MONTREAL - The Montreal Canadiens will be without their ironman and most physical defenceman as they battle for first place in the Eastern Conference the next two weeks.
Veteran Mike Komisarek is out for the rest of the regular season and may even miss the start of the playoffs with what the team will only call a lower body injury.
"It's never a good time for these type of things," the Canadiens leader in hits (266)and blocked shots (226) said Saturday. "The good news it is that it'll be two or three weeks.
"I'll be in good hands, get good treatment and be back for the playoffs. I'll try to take a positive out of it."
Komisarek left Montreal's game in Boston on Thursday night in the first period and did not return after absorbing at least two big hits. There has been speculation he is suffering from either a groin or a lower back injury.
"You know that at this time of year you can't get into details," the West Islip, N.Y. native said with a laugh.
It's the first major injury of the season for a team whose top skaters have been remarkably healthy. They were without veteran defenceman Roman Hamrlik for five games in January, but that was due to a virus.
Komisarek was told by a team doctor he would miss two or three weeks. Coach Guy Carbonneau said he was out a minimum of three weeks, although Komisarek will be evaluated daily after the second week.
Either way, his streak of 196 consecutive games played dating to the 2005-'06 season was to end with the Canadiens' game against the Bruins on Saturday night. Forward Guillaume Latendresse was also out with spasms in his neck and is listed as day-to-day.
Komisarek, 26, has come into his own this season as a punishing defensive defenceman on the right side of the Canadiens top pair with Andrei Markov. He gets over 21 minutes of ice time per game, mostly against the opposing team's top scoring line.
"It's a big hole to fill, but it gives a chance to other players to show what they can do," said Carbonneau. "For sure we'll miss him when we're penalty killing against the other team's big line, but it's up to other guys to pick up the slack."
Josh Gorges, a spare defenceman at the start of the season who has played himself into a regular spot in the lineup, will be Markov's new partner. Mark Streit, a career defenceman used mainly on left wing the last two seasons, will move back to the blue-line in Gorges' spot beside Francis Bouillon.
Montreal also has big rookie Ryan O'Byrne, who plays the right side with Hamrlik, while veteran Patrice Brisebois, who also plays the right side, is available in reserve.
Komisarek, the Canadiens candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy for his exceptional perseverance, is confident he will be back for the post-season.
"I'm in good hands with the trainers," he said. "I haven't missed any games in the last two years.
"I've had bumps and bruises and things people didn't even know about and the trainers have taken good care of me. They're going to throw everything at me to make sure I'm back as soon as possible. And I got the trainers' Timbits this morning, so maybe that helps. Chocolate glazed - the ones they really like."
Gorges, 23, played in only seven games after being acquired from the San Jose Sharks along with a first round draft pick for defenceman Craig Rivet just before the NHL trade deadline last season. He was a healthy scratch for 20 of the first 30 games this season, but hasn't missed one since.
"We had good reports on him last year," Carbonneau said of Gorges. "Because of the (playoff) race last year, he wasn't able to come in.
"It wasn't that we didn't have confidence in him, but we had more confidence in the players we knew. He came in and battled every night and he's filling a really good spot on this team now."
Gorges was never drafted, but signed as a free agent with San Jose in 2002 while playing for his hometown Kelowna Rockets, who he captained to a Memorial Cup title in 2004. He also played on Canada's silver medal squad at the 2004 world junior championships.
"Losing Mike is tough, but us other guys on defence have to step it up a notch," said the six-foot-one 195-pound Gorges, who relishes the notion of playing beside Markov. "Playing with a guy like Andrei is a privilege.
"He's a world class player. There's not many D-men in the league who can see the ice and move the puck like he does."
Streit was a career defenceman in Switzerland before he joined the Canadiens in 2005-'06. This season, he has also moved onto the first power play unit as the shooter on the right point.
His versatility has become an asset for the Canadiens.
"It's a good thing for me and it's valuable for the team, especially the last game in Boston when Komo couldn't finish the game and I stepped in and played on defence right way," said Streit. "I guess that makes it easier for the coach and the whole team.
"And for me it seems to be easier to do it now. In the first year, it took me a while to adapt, but now I feel quicker, more comfortable."
He still makes it clear he prefers to play defence, and when asked if he was starting to like playing on the wing, he answered with an emphatic "no."
"But it's not a big thing if I like it or not. It's part of my role."