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Islanders will be without Hillen six to eight weeks

Islanders defenseman Jack Hillen will miss 6-8 weeks

Islanders defenseman Jack Hillen will miss 6-8 weeks after being hit in the face by an Alexander Ovechkin slap shot. Credit: AP

By the time Andy Sutton turned around, Jack Hillen already had crumpled to the ice.

"It's one of the worst things you can see happen to somebody," Sutton, Hillen's fellow Islanders defenseman, said softly.

Hillen had unsuccessfully tried to block Alex Ovechkin's slap shot during Tuesday's 7-2 loss to Washington, but the puck hit him in the mouth, breaking his jaw and damaging teeth.

Hillen was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

"It's a huge loss," Sutton said of Hillen, who likely will be released from the hospital Thursday.

His absence is just the latest blow for the Islanders, a team struggling to find its way and contend for a playoff berth.

When asked how Hillen's absence will affect the team, coach Scott Gordon replied: "Jack's been playing some really good hockey for us. For him to get hurt now, especially . . .

"We rely on him. He plays a lot of minutes in a lot of different situations. He's a key guy for us. It's unfortunate, but it could have been worse. I guess that's the bright side."

Now, the Islanders, who have lost two straight and three of their last five, must begin a difficult four-game road trip starting Thursday night in Carolina without Hillen, who turned 24 on Sunday.

"Our season's right now," Sutton said. "We have to focus on these four games and this trip, and the eight games we have before the [Winter Olympics] break and really bear down and get as many wins as we can. It's imperative at this point in the season.

"We had a few off periods and you can't do that this time of year, especially against top teams. We just need to learn from the mistakes and get ready to play tomorrow night."

To replace Hillen, the Islanders recalled Dustin Kohn, who made his NHL debut last week filling in during Sutton's two-game suspension.

The 22-year-old defenseman said the team called him Tuesday night after Bridgeport's 2-1 shootout loss to Albany.

"I'm not sure how long I'm going to be here," Kohn said. "So I'm not going to take anything for granted and make the most of the opportunity.

"The more games you play, the better you're going to feel, the more you're going to ease into it and kind of find a role and feel more comfortable. I'm just going to keep trying to play solid, keep working hard and go from there."

Gordon said the youngster will likely be more of a factor this time around with the team.

"We'll try to elevate his minutes and get him to a point where, hopefully, his development is at the same point that Jack's and even [Andrew] Macdonald is," he said.

"If we can get him to play the type of minutes that those guys have been able to play and progress in a manner that doesn't put it over the top for him and allows him to adjust, that would be the ideal situation."

New York Sports