When the Carolina Hurricanes face off with the Phoenix Coyotes in a Sunday matinee, it will mark the Canes’ fourth game in six days and the third game of a three-in-four set. With that, fresh, healthy bodies that can jump seamlessly into the lineup are an added bonus.
And the Canes have that.
Kevin Westgarth and Mike Komisarek dressed Friday against Los Angeles, their first game action in the regular season. Komisarek skated in over 14 minutes of ice time, and Westgarth played around six-and-a-half minutes.
“The best part is competing on the ice with your teammates,” Komisarek said. “The coaches do a great job in, if the guys aren’t playing, to get us in tip-top shape and keep our legs and endurance up. But there’s nothing like getting in those game situations.”
“What Mike did do was show that he could jump in,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “He’s a great pro, and he prepared himself and was ready to go, just like Westgarth.”
It’s uncertain whether either will be in the lineup on Sunday against Phoenix. A key factor to consider is injuries, both guys dropping out of the lineup and guys penciling back in.
The Hurricanes could get Tuomo Ruutu back as early as tomorrow. Ruutu, sidelined since the preseason with a lower-body concern, has been skating with the team for the last week and is medically cleared to return.
“As soon as he feels he is fit to go,” Muller said.
Ruutu was skating with the fourth line today, and that’s likely where he’ll be slotted in when he draws back into the lineup; Muller doesn’t want to break up the second line, which has arguably been the team’s most consistent through five games, and the third line, especially with Jeff Skinner and Radek Dvorak on the wings, has seen early-season offensive success.
Coming out of the lineup will be forward Elias Lindholm, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Twice during Friday’s game, Lindholm left with what appeared to be a shoulder issue after receiving a heavy body check along the boards.
Riley Nash, who was a healthy extra on Friday, should draw back into the third-line center position for Sunday’s game.
“What’s nice is that we have healthy bodies that jump in and play when we have an injury like this,” Muller said. “We’ll throw a good four lines out there again tomorrow.”
Defensively, the lineup decisions begin with Justin Faulk, who left briefly in the first period on Friday but returned for the balance of the game. He was held out of Saturday’s practice for maintenance.
“Just a day of recovery,” Muller said. “He should be ready to go tomorrow.”
Should he be sidelined, the Canes could dress 20-year-old Ryan Murphy, who was a healthy extra on Friday. If Faulk is healthy, a decision to play either Murphy or Komisarek will be made.
Both are ready, if and when they’re called upon.
“It’s a grind, and you have to be ready each night to jump in and contribute,” Komisarek said. “If we’re going to have success this season, we’re going to need everyone chipping in each and every night.”
Muller wouldn’t commit to a starting goaltender for Sunday, and through five games this season, he’s rotated Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin. Ward has started three games, recording a 2.87 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. He has posted 30 or more saves in each of his first three games for the first time in his career. Khudobin has started twice and won twice, posting a 1.50 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.
The Canes really can’t go wrong with either goaltender right now – and that’s a good thing.
“We’re not going to look long-term right now,” Muller said. “We have two guys that are giving us a chance to win every night. They’re playing well, and they can stay that much more healthy and rested. Right now, it’s a good issue with our team.”
The good issue extends to the forwards and defensemen, as the Hurricanes rely on their stock to help push through the tightly-packed schedule and injuries.
“I told everybody to come ready to play tomorrow,” Muller said, without tipping his hand. “We’ll be ready to go.”