After practicing fully yesterday, it seemed that Dennis Seidenberg’s injured groin had healed to the point where he could return to the lineup for tomorrow’s game against Florida – all that remained to be seen was if he could make it through today’s practice.
Well, he wasn’t out there at all, so that’s probably not looking good. Bryan Rodney and Niclas Wallin were paired together, and since Seidenberg’s absence caused there to be an odd number of blueliners, Assistant Coach Kevin McCarthy was paired with Frank Kaberle.
Although an accomplished defenseman and one-time All-Star in his 10-year NHL playing career, McCarthy took a big spill while skating backwards on one particular drill, much to the delight and cheers of all involved. Even Paul Maurice was seen raising his arms in a bit of good-natured fun.
Clearly, the team is in a pretty good mood after winning six of their last eight.
“We encourage it,” said Maurice of the loose atmosphere. “We encourage a positive mental attitude going into this game, and really something we wanted to improve with this team is communication on the ice. We try to get these guys talking as much as they can, and that usually leads to the occasional jab and shot, which brings your practice to a new level.”
That isn’t to say that the Canes were goofing around, which definitely was not the case. Maurice was also happy with the work ethic, which has been consistently good dating back to their trip to Buffalo two weeks ago. They’ll need that again for tomorrow night’s game against Florida, which is about as big as they can get, at least in February.
While recent slumps by Montreal and the New York Rangers have opened up the playoff race a little more, Carolina and Florida are among a group of teams that will be competing for playoff spots down the stretch. Heading into the game, the Panthers, who have one more point than the Hurricanes with a game in hand, have the upper hand in the standings. Carolina could reclaim the eight seed with a regulation win tomorrow.
Both teams have been playing well lately – Florida has won five of seven and is 10-3-3 in 2009 – but Maurice is counting on home-ice advantage to give the Canes the edge tomorrow.
“The last game that we played against Atlanta, the fans were buzzing before the puck was even dropped, and I think that had a big part to do with it being our best period in two and a half months – we were flying,” he said. “I think clearly Florida will put up a lot stiffer defense against that kind of game, but I think if we can do enough on the ice to get our crowd going, it energizes our team and we’re tough to beat.”