Sullivan seeks comfort level with face protected by shield

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 11:11pm

The pain vanished pretty quickly. The discomfort … well, that’s not going away any time soon.

It has been a week since Steve Sullivan was hit in the face with a puck, just below the left eye, and knocked out of a game against the Vancouver Canucks. He returned to the lineup for the Nashville Predators’ next game but has played with a full face shield ever since.

“I’ve had a visor from the time I was 17,” the veteran left wing said. “Sixteen was the last time I wore a full face cover. It’s just a lot of adjustment. It’s just going to be time — time getting used to it.

“I don’t want to wear it, but I don’t have a choice.”

Sulivan said he’s hopeful he can shed the extra protection after roughly four weeks. Team medical personnel have told him six weeks is more likely.

Either way, he will have plenty of time to get used to it — or something similar — as the Predators continue their pursuit of a playoff spot. Their next game is Thursday at home against the Chicago Blackhawks.

“We don’t have a cage here, so I don’t know if that would be any better,” he said. “We’re going to try to have one of those brought in. Hopefully the cage will be better. The airflow is a little tough to take, and the heat — I’m basically just sucking back in my own air.”

Plus, he has a harder time locating the puck.

“Anything that’s by my feet, I have a hard time [seeing it],” he said. “The game’s fast enough as it is. If you have to bury your head and look for the puck, it’s tougher to make a play.”

Sullivan’s playing time has been down since the incident, which he called “the worst I’ve ever been hit.”

For the season, he averages 22 shifts per game. In two games since he was hit — both Nashville losses — he has played 17 and 19, respectively.

His offensive production started to lag slightly before that.

He has not scored a goal since Dec. 18, shortly before he was sidelined for more than a month by a groin injury. In eight games since he returned from that issue, he has managed just two assists.

He had nine points in 12 games before he sustained the groin injury, the pain of which probably did not compare to the moment last Thursday when the puck deflected off the stick of an opposing player and caught him high on the cheek.

“When you get hit close to the eye, it’s more, ‘What is it?’ The blurry vision,” Sullivan said. “The whole side of my face kind of went numb. I was more in a little bit of shock. … I just didn’t know what was going on. It was more shock. The pain wasn’t too bad at all, like it doesn’t hurt anymore.

“Even that night, I think I took one painkiller, but the pain wasn’t too, too bad.”