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Gameday: Canes vs. Los Angeles

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Although Ray Whitney seems set to return to the lineup tonight after missing the last two games with an upper-body injury, defenseman Joni Pitkanen will sit out due to illness.

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Pitkanen has missed practice each of the last three days with the ailment, which the team would like to make clear is not the flu, but was previously expected to be available to face the Los Angeles Kings at the RBC Center. According to Coach Paul Maurice, the team has yet to make a decision on whether to use Tim Conboy on defense, where he has been practicing all week, or to make a call to Albany.

In the event that reinforcements are needed – which could be a tricky proposition due to the short notice and possible weather-related travel delays – look for Bryan Rodney to make the trip.

It’s been a week of flashbacks for Manny Legace, who returned to the franchise that drafted him earlier this week and will get the start tonight against the team for which he played his first NHL game during the 1998-99 season. Although he’s only been with the team for a few days, Maurice has liked what he’s seen.

“He fought for a lot of pucks,” said the coach. “We worked on traffic drills and getting pucks to the net, and his quickness is excellent. His fight down around the crease area was really good.”

Legace isn’t the only one who will be feeling nostalgic tonight. Former Cane Justin Williams, now healthy after recently missing five games with a lower-body injury, is enjoying a point-per-game season thus far for the Kings and recently earned rave reviews from Coach Terry Murray. He’s part of a dynamic first line with veteran Ryan Smyth and NHL scoring leader Anze Kopitar, who at 22 has become one of the elite offensive players in the game.

There will be one more former Carolina player in the building tonight (sort of), with the third overall pick in 2005, Jack Johnson, playing against the team that drafted him for the first time. Carolina moved Johnson and Oleg Tverdovsky to the Kings for Tim Gleason and Eric Belanger just prior to the 2006-07 season after several unsuccessful attempts to convince Johnson to leave the University of Michigan and turn professional. In 138 NHL games, Johnson has 27 points, 156 penalty minutes and a -48 plus/minus rating, the latter number being partially explained by the Kings’ struggles over the last two seasons.

On the flip side, the Canes boast a handful of players who used to call Los Angeles home, including Gleason, Legace, Joe Corvo and Tom Kostopoulos.

The Kings are considering a few lineup changes tonight, which may result in seldom-used Erik Ersberg getting the start. In a situation familiar to the pre-injury-to-Cam-Ward era Canes, backup Ersberg has not played since October 14 in favor of starter Jon Quick, who is tied for third in the NHL with 10 wins but struggled in the Kings last two games, both losses. Also, defenseman Randy Jones, claimed from Philadelphia on waivers a few weeks ago, could make his Kings debut.

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