With a number of injuries to the Carolina Hurricanes forward ranks, the coaching staff juggled the lines in practice on Sunday after a cross-country day of travel on Saturday.
Nathan Gerbe slid up to the left side on the first line, as Jiri Tlusty joined Elias Lindholm as wingers flanking Jordan Staal.
“He’s played well for us so far this year. I’m excited to have him in on the forecheck,” Eric Staal said of Gerbe. “Getting that first guy hard in on the forecheck and then having a second guy right there [is important]. If you don’t have two guys on the puck, it’s difficult to create any offense.”
Patrick Dwyer, who missed the team’s last two games with an upper-body injury, returned to practice, skating on the third line with Riley Nash and Tuomo Ruutu.
“Patty coming off the injury, I wasn’t sure where he was at today, but he seems good,” head coach Kirk Muller said.
The fourth line rounded out with Drayson Bowman and Kevin Westgarth on either side of Brett Sutter.
In scanning the lines, it’s noted that the Hurricanes possess a number of forwards who have seen differing roles in the first month of the season. Versatility is a boon, especially when dealing with a swelling list of injuries.
“Certain guys can play off wings, like Ruutu can go left or right, Radek can and Lindy can go center or right wing,” Muller said. “It really does help balance the lines in the ways that you need to put them together. Having forwards that are versatile is very helpful, especially with the injuries we’ve faced.”
Injury Updates Aplenty
Muller’s post-practice media availability began with a request for an injury update.
His response: “Well, who do you want to start with?”
Goaltender Anton Khudobin (lower body) skated very briefly before practice Sunday morning but didn’t feel great doing so.
“He’s got a little work to do. It’s nice to see that he went out and tried it,” Muller said. “He’s got some work ahead of him, I guess. I don’t really have a time frame for him, to be honest with you.”
Defenseman Brett Bellemore skated prior to practice, as well, but was still experiencing soreness. He’s on injured reserve – and will be so until the end of October – with a lower-body concern.
Forward Radek Dvorak (lower body) did not skate this morning and is a question mark for Monday night’s tilt against Pittsburgh.
“He’ll come in tomorrow and reassess,” Muller said.
Forward Jeff Skinner (upper body) underwent an MRI Sunday morning, and Muller did not yet have an update to pass along.
As a side note, you can track daily injury reports on this page, which will be regularly updated with the latest confirmed news as it becomes available.
Fixing the First Period
In three of the Hurricanes’ four regulation losses this season, they’ve trailed after 20 minutes; in the fourth, against Phoenix, they were tied 1-1 after one period.
The first 20 doomed the Canes most recently in their back-to-back set against Minnesota and Colorado, games in which they spotted each home team two goals before the first intermission.
“As a group, consistently, we just have to be smarter with some of the decisions we’re making, especially in the first period,” Staal said. “It’s just about being smarter in our game and not beating ourselves in certain positions on the ice. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
A main focus of practice on Sunday was getting back to playing the game “the right way,” as Muller says, the right way being playing smart defensively, especially in limiting the number of opponents’ odd-man rushes.
“We want to eliminate out-numbered situations and get back to earlier in the season where we were not really giving up much,” Muller said. “If you look at our games lately, we’re not giving up much at all in the defensive zone coverage. It’s more just out-numbered situations.
“The offense happens when we play the game the right way,” he continued. “We have for the majority of the time. It’s just that when we get off of it, we pay the price for it.”
The Canes have been outscored 9-3 and outshot 118-97 in first periods this season. The final two periods have been better, especially the middle frame in which Carolina has outscored and outshot opponents 12-9 and 121-99, respectively.
“It’s from pressing at the beginning. The intention is good when we come out, but if we’re going to make the mistakes, get caught and get scored on, then you’re chasing the game,” Muller said. “We’ve got to come out smarter.”