The Carolina Hurricanes return home from a 12-day, six-game road trip tonight to face Toronto, but they might be down a pair of defensemen.
Joni Pitkanen is day-to-day with a lower-body injury and will miss tonight’s game. Head coach Kirk Muller said he hopes to have Pitkanen available for Monday in Montreal.
Tim Gleason did not skate this morning, and Muller said he’s questionable with a lower-body injury. In the case that he cannot play, defenseman Michal Jordan has been recalled from Charlotte and could make his NHL debut tonight.
“We’ve got a lot of righties on our back-end right now. He’s a left-handed guy, he moves the puck well and he knows the game. He’s a smart player,” said Muller, who spent the work stoppage getting familiar with Jordan and the Checkers. “If he’s in, he can keep it simple, move the puck – which we want our D to do – and just play a good, steady game. They play our system down there, as well, so it’s not like it’s something he has to adjust to.”
Jordan, who represented Charlotte for the Western Conference at the 2013 AHL All-Star Game, was not present at the morning skate, as the Checkers were in Chicago preparing for their match-up with the Wolves tonight. Muller said the 22-year-old Czech defenseman, in his first NHL recall, should arrive in Raleigh this afternoon. In 48 games this season with the Checkers, Jordan has recorded 15 points (6g, 9a).
“It’s an opportunity for other guys. People just have to step up, and you just have to find ways to win,” Muller said.
Dan Ellis will get the nod in net for the Hurricanes, his first start since Feb. 2 in Philadelphia. Ellis is 2-1 on the young season with a 1.99 goals-against average, a .939 save percentage and one shutout. In three career games against Toronto, Ellis is 2-1 with a 1.40 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and one shutout.
“Cam did what he needed to do on the road trip,” Muller said, noting this is the third game in four days for the team. “We know how hard it is to come back for that first home game. It’s probably the toughest game. Ellis is rested, and he’s ready to go. We thought he’d be a good choice tonight to get back into the mix and play the way he has the last couple of games in net.”
The Hurricanes return to the friendly confines of PNC Arena riding a five-game point streak and a two-game winning streak. They compiled a 4-1-1 record on the road trip and are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
As Muller noted, the first home game after a long road trip can be challenging. Forward Jeff Skinner said tempering that excitement and continuing to play the game the team did successfully on the road is mainly mental.
“The first five or ten minutes are going to be big for us,” he said. “We want to get out to a good start.”
Getting out to a good start – or at least scoring first – hasn’t been the Canes’ modus operandi. In 12 games, Carolina has scored first just three times.
But, that hasn’t hampered them, which is a credit to the team’s willingness to stick to their game-plan. In three games on the team’s six-game road swing, the Canes mounted a third-period comeback to secure a point once and a win twice.
“Even before the road trip, we were feeling good about the way we were playing,” Skinner said. “We just have to stick to the same thing.”
Just 10 days ago, the Hurricanes defeated the Leafs 4-1 in Toronto, backed by Cam Ward’s 41-save performance. Since then, Toronto has rattled off four straight wins, outscoring opponents 17-6 in that stretch. The Leafs have won six of their seven road games, including their last four dating back to Jan. 29, a 4-3 overtime win in Buffalo.
“To be a good team, you have to be tough to beat at home,” Skinner said. “It will be fun to get back in front of the home crowd and hopefully put a good game together.”