BROSSARD, Que. — The announcement Wednesday that forward prospect Nikita Scherbak will miss the last two games of the season with a concussion was just the latest bad news for the Montreal Canadiens.
The NHL club has been riddled with injuries, especially concussions.
Scherbak is the fifth this season officially out with a head injury after Carey Price, Phillip Danault, Al Montoya and Ales Hemsky. And forward Andrew Shaw's current "upper body" injury certainly looked like a concussion when it occurred March 13 against Dallas.
Already missing for the rest of the season were top defenceman Shea Weber with a foot injury, captain Max Pacioretty with a bad knee and rookie defenceman Victor Mete with a broken finger.
"This is the kind of year we've had," said coach Claude Julien. "It's been unbelievable the number of injuries and the types of injuries.
"When we started the season we felt we had enough veterans and enough experience to bring in some young guys and still battle through and get ourselves in the playoffs. But a lot of things have happened and concussions is one of those issues that we had more of than we'd like."
The 22-year-old Scherbak was among a handful of recent call-ups from the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League who have been taking regular shifts as the 29th-overall Canadiens play out the final weeks of a lost season.
He took some hits in a 5-4 overtime loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday night, but only complained of symptoms after the game. The team announced he will sit out season-ending games in Detroit and Toronto this week.
"I don't know when it happened; I don't think he knew," said Julien. "As you know we take precautions and we looked at him, the doctors, and they assessed him as having a concussion."
There has been much debate on concussions in pro sports and whether leagues are doing enough to protect players. But three of Montreal's cases came from players being hit in the head by pucks rather than from dangerous checks.
Goalies Price, who missed 14 games in February and March, and the since-traded Montoya were struck in the mask by shots, while Danault was hit in the side of the helmet by a shot from Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara. Danault missed 15 games in January and February, returned to play nine of 10, and has been out again since March 12 with an upper body injury after he was high-sticked.
Hemsky hasn't played since leaving a game Oct. 20 against Anaheim after being hit hard twice.
"I think the league would like to get rid of those (concussions) totally," said Julien. "There's an effort being made there, but we've had too many for our liking and it's been a challenge because of that.
"It's something we have to keep working on, but I think the players also have to do their share and respect that part of the game that can be dangerous to individuals. You never want to end anybody's career with one of those things and you want to know that there's life after hockey."
He said a challenge for the coaches is having to repeat basic instructions and videos over and over because there are always new players coming in who need to be brought up to speed.
But Julien is grateful for the chance to give ice time to youngsters like defencemen Noah Juulsen and Brett Lernout and forwards Daniel Carr, Michael McCarron and Kerby Rychel.
"We have some good young players who have a good future here and the more we teach them now, the less we have to teach them next year," he said. "So there's a lot to be accomplished, even this week."
He plans to put backup Antti Niemi in goal against Detroit on Thursday night and play Price on Saturday in Toronto.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press