The Hurricanes have to deal with the issue of injuries. Currently, they have key defenseman Tim Gleason on injured reserve, stemming from his concussion sustained in the preseason. In addition, rookie phenomenon Elias Lindholm remains injured as well with an upper body concern. On top of this, backup goaltender Anton Khudobin is recovering from a lower body injury sustained last week.
All three of these injuries are bad news in and of themselves.
Gleason is an anchor of the Hurricanes’ defense, both on and off the ice; he sets a tone, expectation and flow of the back end. His ability to sense when it’s time to make the big hit and when it’s time to make a poke check is unmatched. While some assert that he’s overpaid, Gleason pulls his weight and then some. Currently, Justin Faulk leads the defense on a pairing with recent acquisition Andrej Sekera. This arrangement has been less than stellar, though improving.
As far as Lindholm is concerned, while he is obviously not at the level of leadership that Gleason enjoys, he’s a spark plug. His time on the ice so far been productive, and has extracted the top performance from his linemates. Lindholm is an exciting player to watch, and could hold the key to the Hurricanes’ future.
Khudobin is a whole different story. As the Hurricanes’ regular starter, Cam Ward has struggled; Khudobin stepped in and kept things contained until Ward got back to his regular self. Now, Khudobin is injured, Ward is without his magic feather, and the team is relying on AHL call-up Justin Peters as Ward’s insurance policy. Embarking on a two week road trip with one struggling goalie and one minor leaguer is unsafe.
The only silver lining to this situation is that the injury storm is on its way to blowing over. Both Gleason and Lindholm skated with the team Thursday morning as the Hurricanes prepare for the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Maple Leafs. While they remain in no-contact jerseys, reports from the team have both players returning as soon as next Thursday.
Khudobin underwent an MRI earlier in the week, and Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford described the results as a “best case scenario.” This is promising, and it’s entirely conceivable that Khudobin could be back in the lineup not long after the Hurricanes return from their annual “State Fair Road Trip.”
Peters is theoretically capable of filling in and coming up big in the No. 2 spot, should Ward falter again. Not to mention, in Ward’s defense, he’s still Cam Ward, which counts for a lot. It’s the hardcore pessimist that assumes a shaky goaltender will remain shaky. Of active goaltenders in the NHL, few are able to come up bigger and as consistently in the clutch as Ward.
What conclusions can be drawn? Simply put, one of two things can happen.
First, it’s possible that Ward will continue his downward spiral, the team will lean too hard on Peters, Gleason will never feel close enough to 100 percent to lace up before the Minnesota Wild game on Thursday, and the damage to the team will be too great to recover from. This is absolutely a worst case scenario, no matter how conceivable it might be.
On the other hand, Ward might remember who he is, Gleason will come back crying havoc, Eric Staal will realize he can shoot the puck as well as he passes it, and will finally find a lingua franca between he and Alexander Semin. We could easily see Jeff Skinner and Nathan Gerbe kick their already blockbuster season into overdrive and double their performance.
Nobody is kidding themselves. In all likelihood, it will take a week or so to rebuild this banged up team and remember where the puck is supposed to go. It would do fans well to take injury reports with a grain of salt. As we’re learning with Tuomo Ruutu, it takes some time to get your sea legs back.
Time, however, seems to be one luxury the Hurricanes are squandering.