After the tough victory over the New York Islanders, forward Nathan Gerbe took a day off of practice. Most assumed this was due to the tough hit he took from Michael Grabner that later resulted in suspension. This was not the case, however, as head coach Kirk Muller commented to the Raleigh News And Observer Tuesday morning that Gerbe was “dinged in practice” and suffered a lower body injury. In the same sentence, Muller confirmed Pat Dwyer was out due to an upper body concern.
Later in the afternoon, the team confirmed Gerbe would be active for Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Also announced was the probable return of defenseman Tim Gleason.
All of this bodes fairly well for the Hurricanes. Gleason already cannot return soon enough. His toughness on the back end is sorely missed, and reports of Gleason on a pairing with Ron Hainsey bring nothing but hope of a more physical defense in coming games.
Yet there is a concern with Gerbe having any sort of injury whatsoever. Gerbe has been the beating heart of the team in this young season, acting as a catalyst and setting a tone. While it was confirmed he was on the ice at the morning skate on Wednesday, whether or not he is one hundred percent remains to be seen.
The Hurricanes need an injured Gerbe like they need a third ear. When at full strength and playing to their potential, Carolina has the ability to run the table on the entire Eastern Conference. The top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, and Jiri Tlusty are hypothetically the most powerful line the Hurricanes have ever iced since the legendary BBC Line. Jeff Skinner has been red hot and acting as a mentor of sorts to young rookies Elias Lindholm and Ryan Murphy, who have also been amazing. With the one-two punch of Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin in goal, why is this team not leading the conference?
These injuries could not have come at a worse time. Depending on Gerbe’s performance at the morning skate, if his ice time gets limited out of injury concern, this is a step backwards for the team.
The key to solving this issue is defense. Once the defense organizes itself according to ability and strengths, they will be able to slow down — or even stop — attacking zone onslaughts. Players like Gleason who can give as good as they get will send a message that the Hurricanes cannot be messed with in the defensive zone.
The team is also blessed with one of the NHL‘s all-time authorities on conditioning in assistant coach, Rod Brind’Amour. This is another key that should be utilized at all costs.
Injuries are just another excuse for a team that is already stocked up on excuses. Once back to a complete roster, it is up to the players and coaches to preserve that vital combination in order to succeed in the East.