Sunday turned out to be inventory day for the banged-up Carolina Hurricanes, as their regular practice turned into a testing ground of sorts for injured players.
While points leader Jeff Skinner was absent, undergoing an MRI to assess his upper body injury, back up goalie Anton Khudobin and defenseman Brett Bellemore took their first tentative shifts after their respective injuries.
Khudobin, who has been nursing a lower body injury since Oct. 13, was able to skate with the team very briefly. Since the injury to Cam Ward, the team has been hoping to get Khudobin back on the ice as soon as possible. According to head coach Kirk Muller, Khudobin “Didn’t feel that great.”
“It’s nice to see he went out and tried it,” Muller went on to say, “but he’s got some work ahead of him.”
This is not good news, as Carolina is attempting to limp along using the duo of Justin Peters and Mike Murphy, both from the AHL affiliate in Charlotte. With Peters backing up Ward, the team had the luxury of allowing Khudobin to rehab at his own pace, returning when he felt up to it. Now, carrying an AHL-level goaltending corps, the Hurricanes need Khudobin back, and need him back soon.
Veteran forward Radek Dvorak also missed practice Sunday, having suffered a lower body injury. His return for Monday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was categorized by Muller simply as “a question mark.”
Currently, nursing injuries and filling holes are activities the Hurricanes simply do not have time for. With the Washington Capitals steadily gaining in the Metropolitan Division standings, Carolina needs to be focusing on their power play and inability to perform in the first period.
Pittsburgh is on a losing streak. Rather than smelling blood in the water, Carolina can ill-afford to let their guard down. The Penguins are hungry and looking to regain momentum to keep first place in the division. Unfortunately, a banged up Carolina is the perfect stepping stone to getting themselves back in the swing of things.
Thankfully, Muller is trying out new line combinations and parings, finding better fits and chemistry with hopes that something will spark this skeleton crew into holding station until the wounded can return to duty. Thankfully, after Pittsburgh, Carolina has three days off before another home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It will be interesting to see which players step into the key roles in the coming weeks. Of course, Peters will be expected to grow up a little quickly. However, the team will be relying on rock solid players like Nathan Gerbe, who has just blown up in Carolina, and also young bucks like Ryan Murphy, who has proven himself tougher than leather recently.
With Ward being the only player listed as being out for more than two weeks, the light at the end of the tunnel might be approaching.