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Lineup Decisions for Canes

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes are riding a four-game point streak, most recently coming off a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche.

Michael Smith
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The team is confident in their game, and chemistry is evident throughout the lineup.

The Hurricanes also have a number of previously injured players who are ready to reenter the lineup.

Tim Gleason (upper body) has been practicing since Sunday. Jeff Skinner (upper body) returned to practice on Thursday, albeit in a no-contact sweater. Kevin Westgarth (upper body) also donned a yellow jersey in practice. Not to mention, Mike Komisarek has been a healthy extra for the team’s last seven games.

“We’re getting the bodies back,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “The team is playing well, so it will be interesting with some decisions coming up.”

The coaching staff will have to figure out a way to balance the positive vibes and chemistry of the room as it stands now with the goal of reinserting healthy players into the lineup.

Depth is certainly a nice problem to have. But that doesn’t make the decisions any easier.

“At the beginning of the year … we had to get some guys in. Everyone has to feel a part of it and it was early in an 82-game schedule. Now, if the team’s going well and winning, you have to wait and fight to get back in the lineup,” Muller said. “This is one of the first times where we’re getting close to that situation where we have extra bodies. Depending on scenarios of if everyone’s healthy, if you’re playing well, you stay in. We’ve got to roll with what’s working.”

What’s been working well is team defense, and the group of six on the back end has been steady throughout much of November. What’s also been working well is the team’s fourth line of Drayson Bowman, Manny Malhotra and Radek Dvorak. Dvorak left Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury and did not practice with the team on Thursday.

“Radek is going to check it out tomorrow,” Muller said. “He’ll be day-to-day whether he can go tomorrow or not.”

If he is not in the lineup, the Hurricanes might explore the option of dressing seven defensemen, perhaps slotting Komisarek in as a winger, something they toyed around with in practice on Thursday.

“A big part of our success is we’ve had four lines participating,” Muller said. “Sometimes you have to look at the vibe of the team and say, hey, this guy has come in and has done great things with our young guys. He hasn’t said boo, he works out with Roddy and he’s just been a perfect pro. There’s value to that. Sometimes you reward a guy for his commitment.”

In another scenario minus Dvorak, if the Canes want to stick with 12 forwards and six defensemen, they could recall a forward from Charlotte. Fifth overall draft pick Elias Lindholm notched his first AHL goal on Wednesday night in Charlotte.

Also possibly an option is Skinner. While he only has one team practice under his belt, Muller could give him the green light if he feels up to the challenge.

“He’s a special player,” he said. “He’s been skating a lot for Roddy. Conditioning-wise with the type of game he plays, he can jump in.”

Look for Cam Ward to return as a back-up goaltender this weekend, and his first start – while not penciled in yet – shouldn’t be too far off.

“He’ll at least be a back-up, and when it’s the right time he’ll be ready to take on the challenge of playing a game,” Muller said.

Anton Khudobin skated after practice with goaltending coach Greg Stefan. He was originally slated to return before Ward, but his ankle injury has been a challenge to overcome, something that doesn’t surprise Muller.

“From experience, the worst injury I’ve had is an ankle,” he said. “Every time you stride, you have to use your ankle. So it gets tired, gets worn down and gets sore. You can’t compensate for it, protect it or hide it, especially for a goalie. It’s a tough injury for hockey players.”

Injury updates are regularly posted here, and for more discussion on the decisions the Canes face lineup-wise, you can listen to episode six of The Hurricanes Report podcast here.

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