Travis Hamonic reacts to a play during a game against...

Travis Hamonic reacts to a play during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks. (Dec. 8, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Islanders struggled and failed to protect a one-goal lead after Travis Hamonic left Saturday night's game after taking a deflected puck to the face. Now they will have to work hard to stay on the fringes of the playoff race without Hamonic for at least the next two weeks.

The top-pair defenseman required surgery to repair a broken nose and needed stitches to close an ugly gash suffered when Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff's shot was deflected by Frans Nielsen into Hamonic's face at 5:21 of the third period. Hamonic, 21, left the ice with a trail of blood, and the Isles were left with five defensemen to pin down a 3-2 lead.

They got one point in a 4-3 shootout loss, but they were scrambling, something that will continue as they try to fill Hamonic's spot.

"To be honest, we were in trouble even before we lost Hammer," said Dylan Reese, who was back in the lineup to replace Milan Jurcina, out with a lacerated elbow. "But losing Hammer was definitely a blow."

If Jurcina isn't ready to return for Tuesday night's game with the Flyers in Philadelphia, the Islanders will need a reinforcement from Bridgeport. Mike Mottau, out since Jan. 2 with a concussion, will resume skating this week. Ty Wishart is the lone Bridgeport defenseman with real NHL experience; rookie pros Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness are in line after that, with Calvin de Haan still out because of a shoulder injury.

The thin depth on defense extends around the league, and plenty of contending teams are weighing the cost of acquiring a defenseman for the stretch run. The dearth of quality defensemen, both on the trade market and the free-agent market, inspired the Hurricanes to sign Tim Gleason, far from an elite defenseman, to a four-year, $16-million deal last week.

So the Isles will have to tough it out with what they have as they head into a two-week stretch that will define what happens the rest of the season. They are tied for 12th, 10 points out of eighth, with 31 games to play. Starting Tuesday, they have seven games in the next 11 days -- and might not have one of their top players for all of them.

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