Isles lose Zhitnik for season, Asham for four weeks

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Islanders defenseman Alexei Zhitnik is out for the season with a broken left ankle, leaving New York without one of its players as it chases a playoff spot.

The Islanders' fourth straight win, a 6-1 victory at New Jersey on Tuesday night, was costly with Zhitnik and forward Arron Asham (ankle sprain) both going down.

Asham is expected to miss up to four weeks.

Defenseman Joel Bouchard is day-to-day with a knee injury that also occurred Tuesday.

New York (31-29-4) has surprisingly surged back into the Eastern Conference playoff race despite making three trades last week before the NHL deadline that removed four veterans off the roster, including defensemen Brent Sopel and Brad Lukowich, in exchange for youngsters and draft picks.

With their seventh win in nine games, including four over New Jersey, the 10th-place Islanders moved within five points of the final playoff spot in the East.

"Any team would miss valuable players like Z and Ash," Islanders head coach Brad Shaw said Wednesday. "We're treating today's news the same way we approached last week when we moved some veterans for prospects. This is another opportunity for very talented young players to step up."

New York recalled defenseman Bruno Gervais and forward Jeremy Colliton from AHL Bridgeport. Both will be available to play Thursday night when the Islanders visit the Atlanta Thrashers, the team two points ahead of them in the conference standings.

"We have a lot of confidence in Bruno and Jeremy," Shaw said. "Our approach for the Atlanta game does not change from the previous four -- let's do everything in our power to get the win."

Zhitnik, who averages nearly 25 minutes per game, went down in the second period against the Devils and had to be helped off the ice. It was just his seventh game back from a right ankle injury that forced the 33-year-old Russian to miss five contests and the Torino Olympics.

He is in his first season with the Islanders, after leaving the Buffalo Sabres for a four-year, $14 million deal.

Zhitnik had five goals, 24 assists and a plus-4 rating in 59 games.

Asham also had to be assisted off the ice when he was hurt in the first period. The rugged forward has nine goals and 15 assists while playing all but one of New York's first 64 games.