In the current race for the postseason, the tendency might be to look past a home game against one of the conference’s weaker teams and forward to a tough west-coast trip featuring three playoff teams.
Fortunately, the Canes are smart enough not to make that mistake.
“You never feel comfortable,” said coach Paul Maurice. “There’s no games that you go into that you can take a team lightly, and we certainly can’t because they still have the players that can put the puck in the net and that means their goaltender can win them the game.”
Even though Atlanta sits in 14th place in the east with a record of 17-28-5, they’ve given the Canes trouble this season. The Thrashers won the first two match-ups in November before Carolina evened up with two games after Christmas – one of which could have easily gone the other way.
“Our goaltender was absolutely the first star on the 26th of December when we played this team, and he had to be spectacular,” recalled Maurice. “We’re going to have to work our butts off tonight to make sure he doesn’t have to be that good.”
There doesn’t look to be any lineup changes from Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay, as Dennis Seidenberg and Scott Walker are still out. Niclas Wallin skated today without the no-contact jersey he wore yesterday, but won’t be ready for tonight.
That means Bryan Rodney and Michael Ryan will play against the Thrashers. Although Ryan didn’t get to play much last game as neither team rolled their fourth line much, Rodney played just over 12 minutes and impressed his coach in the process.
“I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s played,” said Maurice. “He’s a young player that wants the puck, and a lot of times a young guy comes in and he can’t get rid of it fast enough because he just doesn’t want to make a mistake. You don’t see that in Bryan’s game. He wants the puck and he wants to make plays.”
Like any young player, Maurice said that Rodney will have to continue to learn when to make such plays and when to play more conservative, something that can come only with experience.
“We want to make sure that he develops that along the line that if he sees a hole and feels comfortable going, even though he’s a call-up, that he’ll get up there, get into the ice and play, but at the same time recognize that if you’re out against St. Louis, Lecavalier and Kovalchuk that there’s certain things you don’t want to do,” said Maurice.
Even with two days off until Tuesday’s game at Vancouver, Rodney may stick around beyond tonight’s game as there is still some uncertainty about Seidenberg and Wallin.
Seidenberg’s injury, apparently a reoccurrence of the injury he suffered earlier this year, was originally thought to be minor, but he doesn’t seem to be very close to returning to the ice as of right now.
“He’s day-to-day, but based on the history of him and this injury, I’m not waiting on him for practice tomorrow,” said Maurice. “He’s not going back on the ice until Pete Friesen says he can do some things out there, and I’m not holding my breath.”