NEW YORK — Hours before Monday’s puck drop at the world’s most famous arena, Jakob Pelletier spoke enthusiastically about the upcoming homecoming he’s been waiting so long for.
In just three sleeps he’d be welcomed back to the Saddledome for his first home game following shoulder surgery and the ensuing four months of rehab.
He said the mere thought gave him goosebumps.
The Flames’ 22-year-old winger who has injected so much energy into his team’s lineup and dressing room was counting on the roar of the crowd to give him and his surging team a huge boost.
The reunion may have to wait.
Proving once again there’s no such thing as fair in life, the effervescent Quebecer left Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden following a hit that may very well have re-injured his left shoulder.
In a rough and tumble game that featured plenty of big blasts and bad blood, Pelletier was hit awkwardly along the boards by one of the league’s biggest bruisers, Jacob Trouba.
Showing immediate signs of distress, he slowly got to his feet and as he straddled the boards to climb into the bench he needed help from teammates.
After several minutes of rotating his left arm in obvious discomfort, he used the first TV timeout to skate onto the ice for a brief test.
It was a fail, leading to a hasty departure through the Zamboni exit.
He did not return, prompting the team to confirm in the second period he’d suffered an upper body injury.
Coach Ryan Huska said after the game he did not have an update on his condition, but it’s natural to fear the worst.
“It’s brutal, we all love the kid,” said Rasmus Andersson, covered in ice packs in the middle of a downtrodden dressing room following a 2-0 loss to the Rangers.
“He’s a great guy and brings so much energy into our room.
“Hopefully he’ll be alright.”
If indeed the shoulder was re-injured it will be a cruel pill for the youngster to swallow at a time when his energy alongside Kevin Rooney and Walker Duehr on a newly-revamped line had been a big part of the team’s three-straight road wins before Monday’s setback.
With the team rounding out its depth with its first effective fourth line combination of the season, teammate Nazem Kadri amused his teammates after last week’s win in Boston by pointing out, “a pack of hyenas can take down a lion.”
The Flames’ weren’t able to solve former Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin Monday, firing 30 shots in a disappointing outing that ended the club’s four-game winning streak.
“Pretty bad game from our side,” said Andersson.
“Without Marky (Jacob Markstrom) it’s 5-0 or 6-0 maybe.”
Yet there the Flames were, putting all sorts of pressure on the Rangers to get an equalizer in the final ten minutes, only to see Jimmy Vesey score into an empty net with 19 seconds left.
For a team clinging to the fringes of the wild card race, the loss marred an otherwise fruitful eastern swing, which finished at 3-1.
Tanev’s first period ended in pain, as he made a great defensive play to stop a Chris Kreider rush, only to slam hard into Jacob Markstrom and the post.
Having already taken two big hits in the game, Tanev was slow to his feet and the bench, creating more tense moments for an organization counting on at least a second rounder for him as long as he stays healthy.
Unsurprisingly, he returned for the second and finished the game.
The haul for Hanifin should be even more significant, but as Kadri inadvertently careened into the big defenceman, taking out his knees, there was yet another reminder of the club’s balancing act between waiting for greater returns vs the risk of getting no return due to injury.
Markstrom, who was named NHL player of the week earlier in the day, continued to drive up his trade value, making 30 saves in yet another spectacular outing.
The only blemish was a Will Cuylle rebound the winner jammed in on the doorstep.
So now we wait until Wednesday when the Flames reconvene in Calgary with or without Pelletier at practice.
“He’s come in, played with a lot of energy, and he’s a great teammate and highly-skilled player who works super hard,” said captain Mikael Backlund.
“Just a great team guy that we were really excited to have back.
“We’ll see how he is moving forward.”