Pacioretty a silver lining on Hurricanes’ injury front

The offseason acquisition has returned to skating after tearing his Achilles tendon in August

Brent Burns, left, and Max Pacioretty, right, were once rivals when they played in the Western Conference, but Burns is looking forward to joining forces with his former adversary when Pacioretty returns to the Hurricanes’ lineup once he's recovered from his Achilles tendon injury. (Jeff Chiu / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes surrounded goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov, celebrating the rookie’s first career NHL shutout following the team’s 3-0 win in Chicago last Monday.

Kochetkov had been recalled from the Chicago Wolves, Carolina’s AHL affiliate, on Nov. 8 after No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen came up lame in practice earlier that day.

It was a great moment for the charismatic Russian who is considered the Hurricanes’ goalie of the future, but it was also a symptom of a bigger problem for Carolina.

Three of the players who congratulated Kochetkov were not among those who were in the opening night lineup for the Hurricanes. Include Kochetkov and Max Pacioretty — who tore his Achilles tendon before the start of training camp — and about a quarter of the lineup Carolina expected to have at its disposal was not available that night in the Windy City.

The injury bug has certainly hit the Carolina Hurricanes this season.

Carolina has been without its best goal scorer in Pacioretty, its best puck distributor in Teuvo Teravainen and Andersen, its starting goalie.

Injury-prone Ondrej Kase has unfortunately lived up to his label, playing in the Hurricanes’ season opener before hitting the shelf with the latest of more than a half-dozen career concussions.

Calvin de Haan took that night off in Chicago after being banged up two nights earlier in Colorado, the victim of a cross-check by the Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen that went uncalled and led to a goal in Carolina’s 4-1 loss.

It’s unchartered waters for the Hurricanes during Rod Brind’Amour’s four-plus years as coach. Yes, Carolina has had its share of injuries, but losing its No. 1 goalie and two top-six forwards in the first month of the season has been a new early-season hurdle for the team.

But there are reasons for optimism.

Brind’Amour said last Wednesday that “nobody’s close to getting back” when asked about the status of Andersen, Kase and Teravainen.

A day later following the morning skate of the Hurricanes’ eventual 3-2 overtime loss to the visiting Avalanche, Kase was spotted working out off the ice — the first sign that the 27-year-old winger is making strides in returning. It’s certainly a small step, but Kase’s history of head injuries had led to speculation his career could be in jeopardy.

Then Friday at Invisalign Arena, Pacioretty and Teravainen both skated before a limited practice, doing about 30-minutes of drills with defensive development coach Peter Harrold and team adviser Justin Williams.

Pacioretty — who had a couple of clandestine skates before publicly hitting the ice — cautiously cruised around the rink, showing no signs he was bothered by his Achilles injury that still has him walking with a slight limp.

Teravainen, meanwhile, grimaced early in the skate, clearly discomforted by his upper-body injury that sources described as “a tweak,” but made it through the half-hour workout.

Carolina intends to be careful with its injured players, especially since the team has shown it can at least remain in the top half of Eastern Conference without playing its best and without some of its best.

But there’s also a recognition that Pacioretty is eager to return, both to help his new team and to begin making his case for another contract when he’s a free agent in the summer.

Early February still seems like a realistic target date for Pacioretty, and once he returns his teammates think he will have an immediate impact.

“To have a guy like that, to have him jump in in the middle of the season is going to be a huge add for us,” defenseman Brady Skjei said.

Brent Burns, who had his battles with Pacioretty in the Western Conference when he was with the Sharks and Pacioretty was in Vegas, is also anticipating his return.

“You just see how hard he’s working and how bad he wants to get back,” Burns said. “It’s great to see that he’s taken steps.”

And once he’s on the ice, Pacioretty will bring a dynamic few in the NHL can.

“He’s just a goal scorer,” Burns said. “It’s amazing how you play with somebody that maybe gets the same amount of chances but they don’t score. When you play with a natural goal scorer, it’s just amazing.

“The talent, the ability of those guys — the same amount of chances, they just happen to go in. And he’s a guy that, it’s like you give them an inch and it’s in the net. And you’re like, ‘Yeah, I didn’t really play it that bad,’ but he just scores.”

The Hurricanes just need to get him — and a few others — to shake off the injury bug.