He’d probably prefer to have to make it in this case, but for now, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice may dodge a potentially tough decision with his defense.
On Saturday morning, Maurice said that Joni Pitkanen was feeling “under the weather” and would be a game-time decision for that night’s return leg of a back-to-back, home-and-home series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. If Pitkanen can’t play, that would give the team the regular allotment of six defensemen rather than the seven that thought they would have with the return of Jamie McBain from a shoulder injury.
“We’ll see how he comes to the rink tonight,” said Maurice of Pitkanen.
The Canes’ coach added that he would keep the same group at forward, making Troy Bodie a healthy scratch for the sixth consecutive game. Having all but ruled out the idea of removing a forward from his fourth line and dressing seven defensemen for Saturday’s game days ago, Maurice made it sound even less likely this morning.
“I thought that fourth line played maybe as well as it’s played maybe this year,” he said.
McBain’s return had the potential to cause some headaches, as no blueliner who played in Friday’s game has mad a strong case to sit out. Derek Joslin, who had been a healthy scratch until McBain’s injury, neared the 20-minute mark once again and was a plus-1 for the third consecutive game, bringing his total to plus-8 in nine games with Carolina.
Still, if a healthy scratch was to be made, it likely would not have been Pitkanen, who played just over 22 minutes on Friday while posting 2 assists and a plus-2 rating. Beginning with his overtime winner against the New York Islanders last week, Pitkanen has 4 points in his last three games.
That run by Pitkanen is one of many such stretches through the lineup at the moment, as the Canes have answered a dry spell of five goals in four games with 11 in their last three – all victories.
“We’re trying to find that balance of when the puck absolutely has to go to the net with a very low-percentage shot to when we want to control the puck and not give it away,” said Maurice of the team’s offensive turnaround.
Despite those victories, the Canes sit in the same position as they were at the beginning of the week – three points behind the eighth-placed Buffalo Sabres, who have won their last two games. Maurice, who spoke of breaking out the superstitions last week in order to get some help from around the league, said there’s not much more he can do in that regard.
“I think I’ve got most of them out now,” he said. “When you win and you play like you did last night, you always feel like you’ve got a chance. You’ve just got to keep doing that, and then you can’t control the other parts of the world.”
Maurice said the he expected the Lightning, who were held to just three shots in the second period on Friday – a season-best for the Canes – to apply more offensive pressure in game No. 2, especially after they scored twice in the last 6:43 to make it a one-goal game and cause some nervous moments.
“I think they’re going to try to put every puck at the net tonight and get a lot more aggressive around there,” he said.
After staring Dwayne Roloson Friday, the Lightning may opt to use backup Mike Smith, who is 0-6-3 with a 3.29 goals-against average in his career against the Canes, in Raleigh. As always, the Canes will counter with Cam Ward.