Though he was still awaiting final word on the severity of the injury, coach Jeff Daniels said that Rasmus Rissanen is expected to “miss some time” due to an injury suffered in Saturday’s game against Rockford. Rissanen, a physical mainstay on the blue line for the past three seasons in Charlotte, did not take part in Monday’s practice.
Rissanen suffered the injury during a fight against the IceHogs’ Mark McNeill late in the second period, perhaps when the two players tumbled hard to the ice at its conclusion, as Rissanen had been throwing punches up until that point. Since he and McNeill both earned game misconducts for participating in a secondary altercation while Nicolas Blanchard and former ECHL Checker Jared Nightingale were already fighting, there was no immediate way of knowing if Rissanen was injured as he could not have returned anyway. However, the way he was hunched over while skating off suggested as much.
Having lost All-Star defenseman Michal Jordan for six games until his return on Thursday, Daniels has some understanding of the void created by an experienced player that had been playing in all situations.
“He’s been around the last couple of years and knows the way we want to play and understands it,” said Daniels of Rissanen. “For me he was taking a big step this year. He’s always been a hard guy to play against, but now he’s trying to show a little more patience with the puck. We got him some power play time and he looked good out there.”
His loss makes the manner in which he got hurt a bit tougher to swallow. However, Daniels took no particular issue with Rissanen’s decision.
“It’s easy to say that now, but it’s part of the game,” he said. “If he doesn’t get injured you’re fine, but it’s a big, big loss for us.”
Just as when Jordan was out, Beau Schmitz will step in to the lineup. Though entrenched as the team’s seventh defenseman, Schmitz has still played nine games due to injuries to Jordan, Matt Corrente and Rissanen, who missed back-to-back games on Oct. 30 and 31 due to an undisclosed ailment.
Meanwhile, changes will also be made at forward, with Daniels changing up three of his forward lines at Monday’s practice. While the top line of Chris Terry, Brett Sutter and Zach Boychuk remained intact, alterations to the other three lines stemmed from the dissolution of what had been a secondary scoring unit with Philippe Cornet, Victor Rask and Aaron Palushaj.
“I haven’t been happy with that line, so I broke all three of those guys up,” said Daniels.
On Monday, Cornet, acquired from San Antonio to give the team another top-six forward two weeks ago, had slipped down to the fourth line with A.J. Jenks and Matt Marquardt. The biggest beneficiary of the moves was Brendan Woods, who is likely to skate with Rask and Justin Shugg when the Checkers take on Cornet’s former team on Tuesday.
Woods, a 21-year-old rookie, has chipped in three goals from the fourth line this season, including one that tied Saturday’s game at 1-1 in the first period and set off the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss promotion, much to his surprise.
“I had some friends come in and I had told them to bring their little kid for it, but I totally forgot when I scored the goal until I saw the teddy bears come down,” he said. “It was pretty cool to score that goal, but I’d definitely rather get the win.”
That goal, in which Woods played the puck to himself off the wall to beat a defender, skated into the zone with speed and fired a short-side shot over goalie Kent Simpson’s right shoulder, provided a glimpse into the kind of offensive upside that Daniels is hoping to tap into this week, though not at the expense of the 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward’s bread and butter.
“We’re just looking to add some speed on those lines so that they can get in on the forecheck and create some turnovers, and that’s one of his assets,” said Daniels of Woods. “He doesn’t need to change his game. We just had a long talk about playing the same way, and hopefully he can create some speed for Rask and Shugg.”
“It’s a good feeling to have because you must have been doing something right to get moved up,” said Woods. “I’m going to keep it simple with hard work to get pucks to (Rask and Shugg), put my body in front of the net and shoot the puck every chance I get.”
Aside from Schmitz coming in for Rissanen and the likely continuing of a rotation in goal, the Checkers are not expected to have forwards Sean Dolan and Jared Staal at their disposal. They have missed the last three and last two games, respectively, due to injury and did not practice with the team on Monday.