The Carolina Hurricanes might have caught somewhat of a break Friday morning.
It had already been confirmed by the team that Ward would be out three to four weeks, and Mike Murphy had been recalled from the AHL affiliate in Charlotte to back up replacement goalie Justin Peters. Both Peters and Murphy are AHL level goaltenders, and with both Ward and regular backup Anton Khudobin on injured reserve, this is how things need to be.
Skinner, who remains the Hurricanes’ overall points leader, had left Thursday night’s game with an upper body injury. He was included on the team’s injury report Friday morning but was not listed as any specific status. Reports out of practice, however, had Skinner “doubtful” for the game against the Colorado Avalanche.
Another concern was defenseman Tim Gleason, who has been out since the preseason with a concussion. Initial projections had Gleason returning for the Minnesota game, but that did not come to pass. Head coach Kirk Muller elected to keep Gleason out for one more night, along with rookie forward Elias Lindholm. Afternoon reports from the News And Observer confirmed Muller will play both Gleason and Lindholm against Colorado.
Time is a fickle mistress for the Hurricanes right now. With Khudobin out for another one to two weeks, there is an urge to get him back on skates sooner. The following week has only three games, with a large layoff between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning games. This might be the window of opportunity needed to fast-track Khudobin’s recovery, should trainers deem it an okay idea.
The injury report for the Hurricanes reads like a battle damage assessment. In addition to Ward, Khudobin, Gleason, and Lindholm, Pat Dwyer is day-to-day with an upper body concern, Brett Bellemore is out with a non-specific injury, and defenseman Joni Pitkanen remains out for the season after his broken heel last year. As some have nervously joked, it’s almost easier for the team to list who is healthy at the moment.
The Peters-Murphy tandem in goal seems like a band-aid on a bullet wound. Facing Colorado, who sit behind the San Jose Sharks in the NHL‘s overall standing, two minor league goalies are not the smartest course of action. Colorado can hit a goalie fast, hard, and often before the defense even has time to realize what happened.
Muller’s decision to go ahead and give Gleason the benefit of the doubt is a smart, calculated move. He’s had time enough to recover, and as long as he agrees to listen to trainers there’s no reason Gleason can’t start.
What will be interesting is watching GM Jim Rutherford‘s actions in the coming four days. How will he patch the holes in not just the goaltending but the team as a whole? Rutherford is famous for both his reluctance to make trades and his tendency to be insular when he does.
With the Olympic break coming faster than anyone can really account for, the season hangs in the balance. Tonight’s game in Colorado may just be the biggest of the season so far, as it sets a tone moving forward.