The Canes will again be without defenseman Joni Pitkanen
tonight as they take on the Florida Panthers at the RBC Center.
Coach Paul Maurice said that his minutes-played leader from last season is a possibility for tomorrow’s game at Tampa Bay, but that is still uncertain at this point. At any rate, he should be OK to return on Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh after a three-day break between games.
”It’s more of how he feels,” said Maurice of Pitkanen, who did not skate with the team on Friday morning. “We’re really happy with how the knee looks and his strength and all that, but he’s not ready to go with confidence. Comfort for a defenseman is so important in his game.”
The result of Pitkanen’s absence will be Jay Harrison’s return to the lineup. Harrison played the first two games of the season but sat out on Tuesday when Pitkanen made his season semi-debut.
Tonight’s game will be the third of the season for Florida, but it will also be their first game in North America. The Panthers were one of four teams to begin their season in Europe, splitting two games with the Chicago Blackhawks in Helsinki, Finland. The latter of those two games took place on Saturday, giving the Panthers almost a full week off between games – not always an easy thing to do, jet lag or not.
“I expect them to be good and sharp and play hard,” Maurice said nonetheless. “They probably feel like the worst is over because that was quite a schedule they started from day one of training camp. I think they’ll probably all relieved to be back home and they’ll be feeling good.”
Hurricanes winger Scott Walker is a veteran of overseas premiers, having scored the first-ever NHL goal outside of North America as a Vancouver Canuck in Tokyo, Japan back in 1997. As fate would have it, he went back to the Far East with Nashville the following season.
”It wasn’t that much different than any other five-hour road trip that we were making at the time,” said Walker, who is fuzzy on the finer details from over 10 years prior. “Having a week off could be the hardest part, but that all depends on your team.”
The Panthers’ newest addition, center Dominic Moore, may or may not play for the team tonight due to immigration issues that have so far prevented him from leaving Canada. Moore, who scored a career-high 45 points last season with Toronto and Buffalo, was signed as a free agent on Monday. Another offseason addition, backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen, is also up in the air as he’s been away from the team for family reasons over the last few days.
Although those two players and former Cane Dennis Seidenberg represent the bulk of Florida’s offseason activity – the bigger transaction was actually the loss of Jay Bouwmeester to Calgary – the Panthers could improve thanks to a number of young players who are quietly starting to make good. David Booth scored 31 goals as a 24-year-old last season, while former first-round picks Nathan Horton, Michael Frolik and Stephen Weiss also play big roles. Many are predicting a breakout season for the 21-year-old Frolik, chosen 10th overall in 2006, after a 21-goal rookie season last year.