February 28, 2012 2:30 PM
Though everyone involved knows better than to take anything for granted at this point, for the first time in over a month, it appears the Checkers will enter a weekend knowing the identity of their two goalies.
Cam Ward’s return to health has Mike Murphy back in Charlotte for what should be the foreseeable future, unlike the uncertainty and back-and-forth he experienced last week. Over a five-day period, Murphy was involved in four transactions that saw him return to the Checkers when he wasn’t backing up Justin Peters for three games with Carolina.
Though some his teammates are used to going through the “yo-yo” of everyday drives up and down I-85, it was a first for Murphy – not that he minds.
“Obviously it’s exciting to get called up,” he said. “It was good because I got to work with (Hurricanes Assistant Coach) Tom Barrasso, and that helped me feel better about where I am in my recovery.”
To that point, Murphy still hasn’t appeared in a game since suffering an injury in warm-ups prior to the Checkers’ Jan. 24 game in Norfolk. For five consecutive weekends in between then and now, the Checkers, who were already starting their third-string netminder in John Muse, have had to find an emergency backup via a professional tryout signing. It’s a complicated process that can occasionally have its dangerous moments, such as last Friday’s game when flight complications kept Dave Caruso from arriving until midway through the game.
At the time of his first recall of last week, Murphy had only been skating for two days, making this last week an unusual one as he attempts to get back to full speed. Rather than having the travel disrupt that process, Murphy said the opportunity to work with Barrasso, a standout NHL goaltender in his playing days, was undoubtedly a good thing.
“He picks up on things you’re doing wrong, and when you’ve been away for so long there are little things you forget,” he said. “I feel great now that I’ve worked with him and have had a few hard NHL practices.”
With back-to-back games in Lake Erie on the schedule starting Saturday, Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said he wasn’t yet sure how he would distribute the workload between Murphy and Muse, the latter of whom is 10-3-2 with a 1.81 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and two shutouts in 15 appearances this season, most of which came since Murphy’s injury.
Even though Murphy, the three-year-veteran, will likely make the bulk of the starts as long as he’s healthy, it seems that Muse will play much more of a role than he did earlier in the season when he played just twice in his first 21 games with the team.
“He definitely deserves a chance,” said Daniels of Muse.
The situation could quickly become a logjam if Carolina’s Brian Boucher returns from injury – a development that could result in Peters’ return to Charlotte. Boucher, who has not played since suffering a lower-body injury in December, has resumed practicing with the team.
BOYCHUK EARNS HIS SHOT
Of the usual group of Charlotte forwards that have split the last few seasons between the AHL and NHL, Zach Boychuk was the last to earn an opportunity to play under new Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller.
Boychuk, whose last reassignment to Charlotte on Nov. 21 came just one week before Carolina made its coaching change, is set to feature on the Hurricanes’ second line and receive power play time in Tuesday’s game against Nashville, continuing Muller’s trend of giving players like Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe and Jerome Samson prime opportunities to show their skills.
Though a long time passed between recalls for Boychuk, coach Jeff Daniels said that the player’s recent performances helped him earn the nod.
“There are two things,” said Daniels. “One is that over the last two weeks he was really involved and getting a lot of chances, although he probably didn’t finish as many as he would like. The other is that when he has gone up there he‘s done really well, and this gives Kirk a chance to see what he can do.”
Though Boychuk logged just a single assist in last weekend’s set against Oklahoma City, he tied Bobby Sanguinetti with a team-high 11 shots on goal. His goals this season have tended to come in bunches, as he’s recorded three two-goal games but has also experienced droughts of eight and 10 contests.
“He’s no different than a lot of guys here that are learning how to get that consistency and play at a hard pace all the time,” said Daniels. “He’s shown that in flashes, in the last few weeks he’s put together some strong games where he’s skating really well and is involved physically.”
Justin Krueger, who was already out with a fairly significant injury entering last weekend, has been joined by Chris Murray and Rasmus Rissanen. As of Tuesday, Daniels had already ruled all three out of the upcoming trip to Lake Erie.
Rissanen left Friday’s game after a hard crash into the boards and did not return, prompting Murray, who had missed the last 14 games, to re-enter the lineup on Saturday. Though Murray completed the game, he was not at Tuesday’s practice.
That leaves the Checkers with just five defensemen, with Daniels saying he would spend the week looking to add a sixth via recall or professional tryout signing.
There was better news at the forward position, with Daniels confirming that Chris Durno would play his first game of 2012 against Lake Erie.
“He could have played Saturday, but we figured another week wouldn’t hurt him just for conditioning and to be safe with the injury,” said Daniels.