Valtteri Filppula turned 35 on Wednesday, but it wasn’t exactly a happy birthday.
The Islanders announced that their versatile and valuable third-line center will miss four weeks with an upper-body injury. There are only nine games and a little more than two weeks left in the regular season. Metropolitan-leading Washington led the Islanders by just two points heading into its home game Wednesday night against NHL-leading Tampa Bay.
Filppula left Tuesday night’s 5-0 loss to Boston at the Coliseum during the first period. The Bruins’ Connor Clifton appeared to crunch Filppula’s left shoulder into the glass behind the Boston net. The first-year Islander skated off favoring that arm and didn’t return.
“I think definitely he’s been great for us all year and such a solid presence down the middle,” Andrew Ladd said after practice at Northwell Health Ice Center. “Penalty kill; he plays in every situation. So it’s going to be a hole for us to fill, but I think we’ve dealt with injuries pretty well this season.”
Besides killing penalties, Filppula has worked on the power play. He has 15 goals and 14 assists and is plus-17 across 71 games.
“We’ll miss him,” Barry Trotz said, “but the next guy will have to step up and get it done.”
Trotz said there’s “a little bit of a plan going forward here,” but he didn’t identify the next guy, adding, “It may be by committee a little bit.”
He also left things open for Thursday night’s game at Montreal because of another injury.
Fourth-line right wing Cal Clutterbuck practiced after leaving the Boston game in the second period due to an upper-body injury. But first-line right wing Jordan Eberle didn’t practice. He’s day to day with an upper-body problem. Trotz called him “questionable,” but he said Eberle would travel. Ladd practiced in Eberle’s spot.
“We’re still in the process of seeing who’s available,” Trotz said.
Tom Kuhnhackl has appeared in 31 games and is normally a wing, but the 27-year-old native of Germany practiced in Filppula’s place.
“I have played center before, growing up in the juniors a little bit,” Kuhnhackl said. “Whoever’s in the lineup, you’ve got to make sure you bring your ‘A’ game and help the team as much as you can in any way.”
Tanner Fritz could fill that spot, too. He was recalled from Bridgeport. Trotz also mentioned third-line right wing Leo Komarov and Anthony Beauvillier, who practiced as the third-line left wing, as having some center experience. Tuesday night, Trotz mentioned another wing as a possibility, Josh Bailey.
“I think the depth we have in this organization has been good,” Komarov said. “We just need to stay together here and focus for the rest of the season.”