By sheer coincidence even without the holiday, the Carolina Hurricanes have a lot to be thankful for this week.
First and foremost is the return to playing form of starting goaltender Cam Ward. His injury in October was the lynchpin for the team’s downward spiral that only recently showed signs of ending. While Ward’s initial return was somewhat shaky, his performance this week has shown that he’s ready to be the solid starter he’s been all along. Ward sustaining this level of play and staying healthy will be Carolina’s ticket to the playoffs.
Captain Eric Staal has bounced back as well. Unfortunately, this improvement coinciding with the concussion and subsequent absence of Alexander Semin is evidence that they never belonged on a line together to begin with. This is somewhat of a bitter pill to swallow for head coach Kirk Muller. When a player of Semin’s caliber is proven to be poison for the top line — where do you put him?
Either way, it’s a good thing for Staal to be performing better again. This will pull the rest of the team up with him and will only improve the squad as a whole.
On the subject of Staal, Carolina also needs to count their blessings for the return of forward Jeff Skinner. While his stint on injured reserve was perhaps more prolonged than the team needed, his return to the top line with Staal and Jiri Tlusty has been magnificent. While this line will more than likely not last, it’s still a great thing.
Skinner’s other talent is to carry the battle flag for the younger players and rookies. Elias Lindholm is returning from his tour of duty in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers and is filled to the brim with nothing but potential. Remaining under Skinner’s tutelage will end up being the best possible thing for Lindholm’s career moving forward.
It’s true that Tim Gleason has returned to injured reserve and will likely stay there for a week or more. It’s also true that Kevin Westgarth is serving a two-game suspension for the idiot hit he put on Ottawa Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki.
As a side note, Westgarth’s hit on Borowiecki was hands-down one of the stupidest and most dangerous plays in recent memory. If the Department Of Player Safety hadn’t suspended him, Muller should have benched Westgarth himself.
With the missing players, the one thing Carolina can be happy about is that the injury report is only four names long for the first time in forever. Backup goalie Anton Khudobin has been practicing with the team, and his return is expect to come very soon.
With their Wednesday visit to the New Jersey Devils, Carolina finally has a chance to take their mostly-healthy lineup out for a spin. As the team begins to coalesce back to their intended form, there is truly a lot for them to be thankful for.