There’s the whole thing of Nathan Gerbe coming back to Michigan, where he’s from. Which is kind of neat, since he has only played there in the regular season once in his career before this. As humanly interesting as this tidbit may be, it only gives Fox Sports color commentator Tripp Tracy something else to talk about during the game other than the game; which he is famous for — because he is awful.
Losing forward Alexander Semin to a concussion is also being brought up. This is another distraction, however, since Semin is pretty far away from “irreplaceable.” In fact, he’s pretty far from “useful” these days. As desperately as the Hurricanes PR department is trying to get people to care about this, it’s not working. Semin being out is another non-issue.
Only two things should be discussed as far as the Hurricanes’ lineup is concerned: Jeff Skinner and Cam Ward.
Skinner is finally returning from his Oct. 24 upper-body injury, having been officially activated Thursday morning. Not only is his return solidified, but head coach Kirk Muller has him placed on the top line — in Semin’s spot — with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty. The only way this decision can backfire is if the power goes out in Joe Louis Arena and the game has to be canceled. Having a Skinner-Staal-Tlusty top line is such a no-brainer, it’s insane to think it wasn’t the first thing Muller did in October. Putting grind-it-out Staal with the run-and-gun Tlusty and Skinner should have been a clause in Muller’s contract.
Where does that leave Semin? Who cares. There’s three other lines he can skate on, it’ll be figured out.
Then there’s the whole Ward vs. Justin Peters madness. Who should start, who should be traded, etc.
Fact: Ward has started in one game since being re-activated. One. A single game. Against the Boston Bruins – who are actually really good. Ward’s one loss to Boston had almost nothing to do with Ward.
Yet, somehow this logic is lost on Muller, who confirmed Thursday afternoon that Peters would get the start over Ward. This is the dumbest idea since the McDLT. Ward is an elite goaltender and faltered in a single game. One game. While it’s true Peters is on a hot streak, something else is true: Ward won’t get any better sitting on a bench.
Carolina is comfortable enough in the Metropolitan Division standings that they can throw Ward in there and have it be OK. When your franchise goaltender just came off of a very long injury, takes a loss in his first game not due to lack of talent and gets benched for an AHL replacement — that’s as comforting as steel wool.
Skinner on the top line is the good news. Ward riding the bench is the face palm. Gerbe coming home to Michigan is the “aww.” Semin out of the lineup is the distraction. Somewhere in all of this, Carolina has a hockey game to win.