WHEN Paul Holmgren sent Vinny Lecavalier back to Philadelphia on Saturday in the middle of the Flyers' road trip, he did so knowing that the news from team doctors might not be positive.
An X-ray in Dallas revealed a questionable spot on Lecavalier's back.
Yet, Holmgren and the Flyers crossed their fingers that Lecavalier may be able to rejoin the team for Wednesday's game in Chicago. They were hoping against hope.
A follow-up MRI revealed Lecavalier will miss at least the next 3 to 4 weeks with a nondisplaced fracture in his lower back, Holmgren announced yesterday. Lecavalier suffered the injury late in the third period against Nashville on Nov. 30.
"He couldn't do much for 6 days," said Holmgren, whose team is at Ottawa tonight (7:30, TCN, WMMR, 93.3-FM). "He skated in Dallas [on Saturday] and I don't believe that aggravated it, but I don't think it helped. We'll take it a bit slower now that we know what we're dealing with. When Vinny starts feeling a little better, we'll get a little more aggressive with his rehab."
According to health encyclopedias, a nondisplaced fracture is one where the bone cracks either all or part of the way through but does not move and maintains alignment.
Three weeks from yesterday would mean Lecavalier's earliest possible date of return would be Dec. 30 in Vancouver. He missed the last three games on this season-long trip with what the Flyers originally labeled as back spasms.
If Lecavalier is out for the full 4 weeks, he will have missed 16 games - nearly a quarter of the season and the real meat of the Flyers' schedule - due to the injury. Lecavalier has already missed a total of seven games this season: three games in October with a lower-body injury, one game in November with a facial injury, and now this back injury.
Lecavalier, 33, said in Minnesota this week that he had never experienced back problems before this injury. He has not played a full NHL season since 2009-10.
The Flyers are 2-5-0 without Lecavalier, who is tied for the team lead in goals (nine).
Holmgren said the Flyers will recall a forward today from AHL Adirondack to have an extra body on the road trip, but the lineup is expected to remain the same with Michael Raffl and Jay Rosehill. In Lecavalier's absence, Raffl has climbed to join Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn on a line.
The Flyers' 29th-ranked offense - averaging 2.17 goals per game - will surely miss Lecavalier. But Holmgren said he does not expect to pursue any trade possibilities for the time being.
"I'd say we're probably going to get by as is," Holmgren said. "He does play a big role on our team. It's hard to replace a guy like that. There's opportunities for other players to perform now that maybe wouldn't have gotten as many minutes with Vinny in the lineup. You've just got to hope that other guys pick it up."
The Flyers landed in Ottawa just before 9 o'clock on Saturday night, but that didn't leave much time for anything other than a quick meal and bed. That's because they practiced yesterday morning at 8:30, since the Ottawa 67's OHL junior team needed to occupy Canadian Tire Centre for an afternoon game.
"It's been a long, long time since I was up to practice this early," Matt Read said.
It was just one more quirk on this 13-day trip. The Flyers didn't practice Thursday in Dallas, had their practice canceled Friday and didn't have a morning skate before Saturday's 5-1 loss to the Stars.
"It was a little bit early for the boys," coach Craig Berube said. "But we didn't get in too late. I'm used to it, because I get up and get to the rink. They've been really good about this whole trip, some different things that have gone on. It was early, but I thought the energy was good, the practice was good, it was a good sign."
Claude Giroux has five points in his last five games against Ottawa, his summer hometown . . . The Flyers have outscored Ottawa, 10-2, in their two wins against the Senators this season . . . Ottawa is coming off an overtime loss to the Maple Leafs . . . The Flyers have a chance to not only claw back to .500 tonight but also ensure they earn a split (they are 2-2-0) on their six-game trip before Wednesday's finale against the defending Stanley Cup champions in Chicago.