Mike Rogers and Reijo Ruotsalainen walk around ladders, avoid black cats and shun the 13th floor of hotels. When you are the only members of a star-struck team to play every game, you cannot be too careful.
The New York Rangers, who come to Capital Centre tonight to play the Washington Capitals, bear a cross. They have had 38 injuries occur to 23 players, producing a total of 262 man-games lost, 100 more than any other National Hockey League team.
The latest victim was Mike Allison, who tried to play on a sore right knee, experienced recurrent problems and decided to have it checked. The diagnosis was ligament damage, so on Thursday Allison underwent surgery.
Allison is the 13th Ranger to incur a major injury this season. There is no pattern to the disabilities, which have affected legs, eyes and most areas in between.
Many of the injured still are out of action. The future of Anders Hedberg, who suffered retina damage Dec. 19, is questionable because his left eye is still blurry. Mark Osborne has not played a game, after suffering a torn hip flexor in training camp.
Don Maloney was lost for the season Nov. 18 with a compound fracture of the left leg. Simo Saarinen also is out for the year, following knee surgery Jan. 10.
Tom Laidlaw went out with a ruptured spleen Jan. 5. George McPhee, after missing nine games with a pulled back muscle, damaged his left hip the first game back, on Jan. 6, and has not returned.
Some injured Rangers have come back: Mark Pavelich, out 32 games with a broken leg; Ron Greschner, idle 20 games with a shoulder separation; Bob Brooke, an opening-night victim of a shoulder separation, and Barry Beck, who has missed a total of 12 games with a shoulder separation, a bruised instep and a hip pointer.
Steve Patrick, whose nose was broken Jan. 5, might return tonight. Willie Huber, hobbling on a sore left knee, has continued to play but, like Allison, could be summoned to surgery at any time. Tomas Sandstrom, his cheek fractured on Wednesday, will play tonight with a visor guarding the injury.
Such a casualty list would be enough to send an army platoon to rear-area recuperation. For a hockey team, it is a disaster, and sufficient reason why the Rangers, expected to challenge for the Patrick Division lead, are in a desperate struggle to attain the fourth and final playoff berth.
Incredibly, the injuries may not be the worst of the Rangers' problems. Coach Herb Brooks, rumored to be headed home to Minneapolis at season's end either as the North Stars' coach or the Gophers' athletic director, has disagreed so vehemently with General Manager Craig Patrick that their differences have become public knowledge.
Worse, an apparent attempt by Brooks to motivate the bruising but bruised Beck backfired when a newspaper report said Brooks had called Beck a "coward."
The day that was published, Beck went berserk before practice, throwing sticks and even trash cans on the ice. Brooks finally managed to calm the big defenseman, but it is obvious that major changes are due at season's end, if not sooner.
Meanwhile, the Capitals, in first place in the Patrick Division by one point, solved their most pressing problem: What to do with two extra defensemen?
Peter Andersson will be playing in Binghamton the next two weeks and Dave Shand will concentrate on scouting assignments while practicing enough to stay in shape in case of injuries.
Andersson did not dress for the last three games. He was hopeful the tour in Binghamton would help him regain the form that made him Sweden's best defenseman during the Canada Cup in September.
"I'm going to play games down there, and games are what I need right now," Andersson said. "I'll get a lot of ice time and then come back and, I hope, do good. Everything comes down to confidence and, when you don't play much, you lose it. That's what I have to get back.
"Maybe the first 20 games I was a little tired, a little too relaxed after the Canada Cup. Then when I started to get less ice time, I lost my confidence."
"After his good play in the Canada Cup, we were positive Peter was going to be one of our top four defensemen," said General Manager David Poile. "But he seemed a little hesitant, and others gradually moved ahead of him.
"When we started training camp, we had no idea where Darren Veitch would be, coming off his knee injury, and Mike McEwen was not in the picture. But Mike McEwen has played very well, and Darren Veitch has lived up to the billing of five years ago. Peter can't get in the lineup. But it's our hope that he'll play six games down there, get in game shape, and who knows what will happen here?"