Canes' Jeff Skinner out indefinitely with concussion

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 20, 2013 

— For the second straight season, Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner will miss games because of a concussion.

The team announced Wednesday that Skinner, who absorbed some big hits last week against the Toronto Maple Leafs, will be sidelined indefinitely. Skinner was out 16 games last season following a concussion in early December.

Skinner, the left wing on Jordan Staal’s line, is the Canes’ second-leading scorer with seven goals and seven assists. He did not play Monday in Carolina’s 3-0 loss to Montreal and was absent at the team’s past three practices.

Who replaces Skinner? Good question. The Canes (8-5-1), who host the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, have been a team that has leaned heavily on its top two lines for its points.

The Canes have gotten 29 goals and 38 assists from their top six forwards. Total production from the third and fourth lines: four goals, seven assists.

While a big disparity, Canes coach Kirk Muller said it’s also typical of what’s happening throughout the NHL in an unusual season that began on the fly.

"Other than Pittsburgh, which has a little more depth, with a lot of teams it seems this year it’s the top couple of lines (scoring) – that’s the trend," Muller said. "The third and fourth lines are not giving a lot of offense.

"For me, it would be great if we can get more production from there. But if not, those guys on the third and fourth (lines) have to find a way to bring something to the game, whether they’re role players or bring a physical part to the game or they’re dependable defensively, so that they’re a contributing factor to the games."

Drayson Bowman, a third-line winger, has one assist in 14 games. But he has been sound defensively, not made many glaring mistakes and has gotten some good offensive chances.

Bowman has 33 shots on goal, the same as top-line forward Jiri Tlusty. But Tlusty, playing with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, has five goals.

"I think we’ve been playing solidly, whether defensively or holding them in their zone for a while,” Bowman said of his line. “But, yeah, you’d like to see them go in at some point. It gets a little frustrating at times but you have to stick with it."

Bowman scored 14 goals in 37 games with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL this season during the NHL lockout. He has a good shot and considers himself an offensive producer.

"It’s always been the standard I’ve used to judge how I’m playing," Bowman said. "All you can do is keep getting the chances and hope it clicks at some point. If we can somehow put it together, it will make it that much easier on the other guys.

But Skinner’s injury looms large. The 2011 Calder Trophy winner scored 31 goals in his rookie season, then 20 last season, when he took an open-ice hit from Andy Sutton of the Edmonton Oilers in a Dec. 7 game and was out until Jan. 14.

In Thursday’s game against the Leafs at PNC Arena, Skinner went crashing into the boards helmet-first after a hit from the Leafs’ Mark Fraser and took a few other hard knocks. He did not leave the game and said he felt fine after it.

Skinner was at practice Friday and attended the “Skate with the Canes” event later that night. The Canes had day off Saturday. Skinner did not feel well Sunday, missed practice and did not make the trip to Montreal.

At Wednesday’s practice, Muller had Chad LaRose on the second line with Jordan Staal and Patrick Dwyer. Jussi Jokinen, moved into Skinner’s slot on Staal’s line against the Habs, was back at third-line center with Bowman and Tim Wallace.

Center Tim Brent, who has a lower-body injury, did not practice Wednesday. Defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, returned to practice and may play against the Jets, Muller said.

Muller said he’s looking for more energy after a poor effort in the 3-0 loss to the Habs. More offensive balance also would be a plus.

"For us, the top lines have done a tremendous job of getting points,” Nodl said. “The role players, I feel like it’s our time now to chip in a goal here and there. It’s not a question of if we score but when we score, but better sooner than later."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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