A trio of previously injured players will return to the lineup tonight for the Carolina Hurricanes, who host the Calgary Flames to begin a three-game homestand.
Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Riley Nash will draw into the lineup. Nash has missed five games with a lower-body injury, and Staal missed three games also with a lower-body injury.
“It’s a big lift,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “Getting three healthy bodies back is good.”
Tlusty was on the shelf for the longest period of time, as he had an emergency appendectomy on Christmas Eve and has missed eight games since.
For Tlusty, the injury – if you can even call it that, considering it wasn’t exactly hockey-related – was a mixed bag. On the one hand, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. On Dec. 21 in Tampa Bay, Tlusty netted two goals, just his fifth and sixth goals of the season, in what has been a disappointing one stat-wise compared to his career year in 2012-13.
It was also Christmas, a time you’d rather not spend in the hospital having emergency surgery.
“It was Christmastime, which was bad,” Tlusty said. “But I’m glad we caught it at the right time, and it didn’t rupture.”
On the other hand, the appendectomy couldn’t have happened at a better time. The fact that it happened at Christmastime was a negative, but it was also a positive in that the team had three off days, lessening the practice time and games Tlusty would miss.
Because it was the holiday season, he also had his family in town.
“My family was here, so it was nice to have them around,” he said. “A surgery like this, you want someone around you. They helped me out a lot. I’m grateful they were here to spend the time with me.”
Post-surgery recovery was slow at first, Tlusty said, but he is returning to game action right before the three-week mark.
“It’s been rough. The first couple of weeks were kind of slow. I wasn’t able to do much,” Tlusty said. “As hockey players, we always try to push as hard as we can, and they didn’t want me to really push the first two weeks. That’s hard. I’ve been through a couple injuries, and you always try to push through the pain and get back as soon as possible.”
Tonight against Calgary, Tlusty will skate on the left wing with Radek Dvorak opposite and Riley Nash in the middle.
“I’m excited for tonight, and I’m excited to be joining the team.”
Also returning to the lineup will be the Canes’ captain after missing his first games due to injury since Feb. 26, 2011.
“When he’s playing at the top of his game, he’s what every team wants – a big power forward down the middle,” Muller said. “When he’s using that big body, he can take a lot of ice time, he’s strong on the puck, he creates offense and he’s a big leader of this hockey club.”
Staal will assume his first-line center position with Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin on either side of him.
Anton Khudobin is expected to make his sixth consecutive start in net. Though Friday night’s 3-0 loss in Columbus was the first blemish on his statistics this season, he’s still 6-1-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
Tonight’s game will mark the second and final meeting between the Canes and Flames this season, the first time they’ve faced each other multiple times in a season since 1999-2000. Carolina earned a point in the team's first meeting this season on Dec. 12, a 2-1 overtime loss. After tonight, the Hurricanes won’t play again until Saturday, the beginning of a back-to-back set at home to close out this three-game homestand.
“We’re playing good hockey, we’ve got lots of energy, we’ve got healthy guys back tonight and we’re at home,” Muller said. “We’ll empty the tank tonight because we don’t play for a while. I expect our guys to come out ready to play.”