I have not seen a formal injury report from the Canes following Phil DiGiuseppe leaving Saturday’s game against Nashville after going headfirst into the boards. The usual “upper body injury” noted by the team of course says very little, but with the point of contact being his head, concussion seems like as good of a guess (though still a guess) as anything.
While we await an update, the Hurricanes recalled Brock McGinn from Charlotte presumably to step into DiGiuseppe’s spot on the roster. In terms of ranking Hurricanes players who the team would least like to lose to injury, DiGiuseppe would not be at the top of the list, but I think his absence could be underestimated. At the top level, the Hurricanes are playing good hockey right now and are getting solid play across all 4 lines that have mostly been together (except minor tinkering with the fourth line) for awhile now. And DiGiuseppe’s ability to provide another skilled player who can skate and play the game at Skinner’s pace has been an underlying positive that sort of hides behind the goal scoring. He has made significant plays on a good number of his line’s scoring plays including the second assist on a nifty pass to quickly put the puck on Rask’s stick looking forward who then found Skinner before banging in a rebound.
So if it does turn out that Phil DiGiuseppe is out of the lineup, the timing is not ideal with the team playing pretty well across all 4 lines, but these situations are of course the norm over the long NHL season.
So what are Bill Peters’ options?
First, let’s start from the assumption that Brock McGinn was recalled to take DiGiuseppe’s slot. Nathan Gerbe is getting close to returning and could figure into the mix pretty soon, but for now I figure McGinn would not have been recalled if he was not going into the lineup.
First, I do not see Bill Peters tinkering with the checking line extraordinaire in Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom. I think most likely he goes 1 of 2 routes:
1-Just drop him into DiGiuseppe’s slot
DiGiuseppe is a skilled player, but I think the biggest thing that he brought to that line with Jeff Skinner was very simply the ability to match Skinner’s pace. My first read on McGinn if he takes DiGiuseppe’s slot is to see if he can get up the ice and into the offensive zone quick enough to help Skinner when he is ahead of the play.
2-Look back to McGinn’s start
It fizzled quickly, but in his first recall, he was part of a line with Kris Versteeg and Eric Staal that was 1 of the Canes best forward line games of the season in a dominant game offensively. They were quieter after game 1 and McGinn eventually found himself bumped down the lines and ultimately back to Charlotte. This would be a 2-way move that would also reunite Elias Lindholm with Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask with whom he has had chemistry in the past. Lindholm has not been horrible of late and always plays sound 2-way hockey, but he has been more passenger than catalyst on the Eric Staal line. In his last 9 games, he has 2 assists and 0 goals. Perhaps a change of scenery benefits him.
It is also possible to put McGinn on the fourth line and move someone up (Terry or Nash would be most likely options). If Peters and his coaching staff saw what I saw last time McGinn played on the fourth line, I doubt he goes that route. He accumulated most of his minus 12 that he amassed very quickly in 14 games playing on this line when his aggressive forechecking style left too much open ice behind him for teams to blow through the neutral zone and past forward line mates (some combination of McClement, Terry and Malone) who did not have enough speed to successfully retreat and defend.
Monday’s practice and commentary from Coach Bill Peters should provide more information on the status of Phil DiGiuseppe, possibly a schedule for Gerbe’s return and at least clues for what the lineup looks like on Tuesday.