RALEIGH — They sat side by side on the press level of Toronto’s Air Canada Centre last week, looking a bit antsy in their suits and totally out of place.
Between them, defensemen Tim Gleason and Mike Komisarek of the Carolina Hurricanes have played more than 1,100 NHL games. Watching from above Thursday as the Canes topped the Maple Leafs 3-2 was not where they wanted to be.
Two nights later, Komisarek was back on the ice, in the lineup against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. Gleason again had to watch.
While Komisarek has been a healthy scratch in seven of the Canes’ nine games, Gleason has missed them all because of a concussion suffered in a Sept.21 exhibition. Coach Kirk Muller said Monday that Gleason could return Thursday against the Minnesota Wild – Gleason’s 600th NHL game, if he does play.
“I know you watch it up top, but there’s nothing like being at ice level and playing,” Gleason said Monday. “The first few games back, at least from my perspective, I’ll have to play simple. Short shifts, things like that. There’s nothing like game speed and it’s not like I’ve only been out a week or two. But I’ll just play my game and try to provide some physical play.”
That was Komisarek’s approach Saturday. Paired with Ron Hainsey, who was playing his 600th game, Komisarek was in for more than 18 minutes and had a team-high four blocked shots in the 4-3 road victory.
“It was good to get in there in different situations, to be out there competing and battling with your teammates,” Komisarek said Monday. “Playing with Ron, who has been solid for us all year, was easy for me. We’re doing a lot of good things as a group.”
Komisarek replaced Brett Bellemore in the lineup against the Isles. His only other game action was Oct.11 against the Los Angeles Kings.
“I was really pleased with him,” Muller said. “He looked very comfortable. That’s where the experience kicks in.”
Komisarek, 31, was signed as a free agent after four mostly miserable seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. There was a shoulder injury and other setbacks, and he played just four games last season.
Muller has talked of the “building blocks” needed to restore the confidence of a player who is a former NHL All-Star and was picked for the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 but unable to participate because of the shoulder problem.
“When you’ve gone through speed bumps and ups and downs the last couple of years, you start looking for that confidence in external sources and different things,” Komisarek said. “But ultimately that confidence has to come from within. That comes from doing the little things off the ice, in the weight room, putting in the extra time on the ice, just a lot of hard work. And having a faith and belief you’re doing the things that you need to be doing to sort of break through.
“Just try to take steps forward, just like our team. They add up, whether it’s a week or a month.”
Komisarek said Saturday’s game reinforced the belief that the work was paying off. He said he had a couple of early hits, got into the flow of the game and took it from there.
“The biggest thing – when you haven’t played in a while – you come back in and the team is doing a lot of good things and you try not to disrupt anything,” he said, smiling.
That’s what Gleason is hoping for this week. The Canes (4-2-3) have won two straight road games and the defense has been solid.
“I just want to get in a few hits at the beginning and play my game,” he said. “The rest will the care of itself.”
Gleason has been on injured reserve. Once he’s activated, the Canes will have good defensive depth but also a roster decision to be make and new pairings to consider.
“We have eight defensemen capable of playing in the NHL,” Muller said. “That will make the decisions hard.”
Gleason was injured in a fight with Jarred Tinordi of the Montreal Canadiens. Among the doctors he consulted was Michael Collins, the executive director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Concussion Program who has worked with Penguins star Sidney Crosby and other concussed athletes.
But Gleason said he can’t be wary on the ice or worry about that next hit to the head.
“With these things, if you go out like that, you’ll hurt it again,” he said.
NOTE: Forward Nathan Gerbe missed practice Monday but should return Tuesday, Muller said. Gerbe took a hit to the head Saturday but remained in the game. … Goalie Anton Khudobin could be out another week or two with a lower-body injury, Muller said.
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