Jordan Staal out indefinitely with a concussion
Jordan Staal left Sunday’s game sometime in the first period and during the first intermission was declared out for the remainder of the game with an upper body injury. The Hurricanes pushed forward in fine fashion potting 3 goals in the second period and going on to win 3-2. If you did not watch the game, I recommend reading the recap of that great win.
Today the Hurricanes announced that Jordan Staal had been placed on injured reserve with no definitive return date and that Phil Di Giuseppe had been recalled from Charlotte.
Despite the win on Sunday without Staal, the loss is still a huge one. It also comes at a inopportune time with the Hurricanes set for another busy and challenging week with 4 games, 3 on the road and 2 against the red hot New York Rangers. In addition 6 of the Hurricanes next 7 games are on the road which will make it difficult for Coach Bill Peters to hide any roster weaknesses.
The Hurricanes did not practice today after playing 3 games in 4 days, so we Canes fans will have to wait until the morning skate for Tuesday’s game to get initial clues as to how Peters will try to fill the big hole left by Staal’s absence.
A possible silver lining
I think a possible silver lining could be the timing as relates to Elias Lindholm’s 2016-17 season and ongoing development. Lindholm got off to a lackluster start centering a line (Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen) that seemingly had enough talent to score at even strength but did not once the regular season started. Lindholm himself continued sputtering at least offensively after the line was broken up and he bounced around the lineup. But very recently, the last 4-5 games, Lindholm has been playing his best hockey of the season. He has a point in 5 of the Hurricanes past 8 games, but maybe more significant is his higher level of puck engagement.
While I do not think it is fair to ask Lindholm, or anyone else for that matter, to fully replace what Jordan Staal does, I do think that Lindholm is the closest that the Canes have right now in terms of skill set. Despite his struggles offensively early in the season, he actually looked fine in terms of positioning, defensive play and puck support both offensively and defensively in the center position. Lindholm is also good enough in the face-off circle to take the tough defensive zone draws against difficult match ups.
I think the timing is right for Bill Peters to put Lindholm in a role similar to Staal’s and challenge him to find a higher gear. It might be exactly the challenge that pushes Lindholm to find a higher level of play that he has within him but has yet to reach on the ice.
How I would stack the deck
If I was Coach Bill Peters, I would move Lindholm back to the center position and build a new line that surrounds him with Joakim Nordstrom and Viktor Stalberg who are sound defensively and are also playing very well right now. The offensive ceiling for that line is modest for a top 6 line, but I think they can hold their own defensively and all 3 players have chipped in goals recently.
I would leave Victor Rask and Jeff Skinner together as the first line and would put either Phil Di Giuseppe (first choice by a slim margin) or Lee Stempniak in the right wing slot vacated by Lindholm.
That leaves an interesting mix of players left for the bottom 2 lines. Given that many of the player combinations would be new, I would do some tinkering until I found something that worked. At a basic level, my first try would be to build a scoring line that could be used opportunistically in favorable situations and a fourth/checking line that would take some of the defensive zone draws. That nets out to Teravainen/Ryan/Aho and Nestrasil/McClement/Di Giuseppe. The immediate issue that I see is that the Ryan line would be undersized and could have a tough time of it defending a cycling line without possession of the puck.
But at a basic level, I like the idea of building the top 2 lines that will get the most ice time from the players who are playing the best right now and then working with what is left after that. I also like the idea of splitting the third and fourth lines a bit by skill set and trying to use them accordingly.
What I think Bill Peters will do
My best guess is that Bill Peters will, in fact, move Elias Lindholm back to center to back fill the hole left by Jordan Staal’s absence. But I do not expect him to reshuffle things as much as I would.
I would expect Peters to fill Lindholm’s slot with Stempniak or Di Giuseppe as I would but then to keep the Nordstrom/McClement/Stalberg line that has been playing well intact. That leaves Lindholm and Ryan centering some combination of Nestrasil, Di Giuseppe or Stempniak, Aho, Teravainen and possibly McGinn if he draws back into the lineup.
The situation drives my ‘what I’m watching’
The Jordan Staal injury feeds directly into my ‘what I’m watching’ for Tuesday with Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner front and center.
Could this challenge be the catalyst for the next step in Elias Lindholm’s development?
Can Jeff Skinner don a cape like he did in Sunday’s win?
The situation is as interesting as it is challenging and makes Tuesday’s match up against the New York Rangers even more worth watching.