Not many people outside of Philips Arena in Atlanta saw the play that resulted in Sergei Samsonov crashing headfirst into the boards, but it’s been summed up by those who did in one word: scary.
In that non-televised exhibition game back on Sept. 25, doctors removed Samsonov from the ice with a stretcher and took him to a local hospital after a trip by the Thrashers’ Dustin Byfuglien. That he was able to fly home with the rest of the team that night raised hopes that his neck injury was not as serious as it appeared – hopes that have been confirmed now that he’s been listed as a game-day decision for Thursday’s contest in Ottawa.
“I felt the pain right away, so you never know,” recalled Samsonov, whose status will be officially determined after the team's next pregame skate. “With the way it happened, the doctors and everybody were there right away and I was advised just to stay down and take every precaution. It turned out to be nothing serious.”
Tuesday’s practice at the RBC Center was just his second with the team since the injury and first while cleared for full contact. The team was wary that concussion symptoms may develop in the days and weeks after his injury, but it appears that the winger has escaped with little more than muscle stiffness.
“I feel pretty good, all things considered,” he said.
Other than missing the first two games of the season in Helsinki, Finland, it appears the worst part of his injury came when he was unable to perform in his home country of Russia during the Canes’ exhibition game against SKA St. Petersburg.
“It was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said, adding that his family ended up canceling travel plans to watch him play soon after the injury.
If Samsonov indeed proves healthy enough to play against the Senators, the biggest challenge for coach Paul Maurice will be finding a place to use him in the lineup. During Tuesday’s practice, Samsonov skated as the fourth member of Brandon Sutter’s line, where rookie Drayson Bowman currently occupies Samsonov’s preferred spot on the left wing.
“If you’re going well, you don’t want to break up the lines and you want to be careful about how you insert him in the lineup,” said Maurice. “At the same time, we believe in this player and believe that he helps us in our lineup. He is a right-handed shot on the power play, which is something that we’re looking for. We have a feeling of urgency to get him back in based on his play and what we think he can do for us.”
Despite Samsonov’s appearance on Sutter’s line at practice, Maurice hinted that he could actually see time on the top line with Eric Staal. That unit, which also features Erik Cole and Chad LaRose, is the only trio not to have registered a point during the successful premiere event in Finland.
”When you have a guy like that on your wing and you’re feeling strong and have a lot of good energy in your legs, you want a little creativity around you,” said Maurice. “Right now I think Staal has a lot of energy and a lot of jump, so I think we’re looking for a little creativity with him.”
With the possible exception of Jussi Jokinen’s line with Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu, Maurice said that line combinations should still be considered fluid at this early point in the season, freeing Samsonov to fit in on any other unit.
Other than Samsonov’s entry into the lineup, Maurice added that the Canes will consider calling up a defenseman either before or during the five-game road trip that begins in Ottawa. There are currently just six on the roster, which could put the team in a tough spot if they sustain an injury on the west coast.
Although Maurice cited the team’s struggles with moving the puck from their defensive end after each of the two games in Finland, he feels that the personnel to do so effectively is in place and that it would not necessarily have a bearing on which player would earn a recall.
“I think that it’s something we’ll be able to improve as we go,” said Maurice. “It’s a concern in that I think there’s more offense for our team to be had if we can do it a little bit better, but it’s not like our faceoffs. Our back-end puck movement will come and it’s going to be good.”
Of the two blue liners assigned to AHL Charlotte on Saturday, Bobby Sanguinetti is considered to be more adept in that particular category.
Further elaborating on the faceoff reference, Maurice said that the coaching staff would now turn to video in addition to on-ice work in attempt to improve the team’s dismal showing in Finland. As a team, the Hurricanes won just 36.2 percent of their draws, ranking last in the NHL.
“They’re a concern, and they were at the start of camp,” said Maurice. “A positive spin for you is that we’ve done a very good job of defending the face offs that we’ve lost so much and are pretty good at our routes now.”