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Florida Quietly Moves up to First - Canes at Islanders Pregame

Don't look now, but while the favorites to win the Southeast Division have recently faltered, the Florida Panthers have climbed up to first place. The Caps have lost their last three games and the Canes have lost three of their last four, but the Panthers have won three in a row.

While Florida will be in St. Louis and Washington will be in Dallas tonight, Carolina will continue their road trip on Long Island as they take on the Islanders.

The Hurricanes reportedly went through an intense practice session yesterday and their coach is calling for a consistent, 60 minute effort. This taken from LSB-

I just don't think we've played a 60-minute game, not the way we're capable of," Laviolette said Friday. "I think that's the biggest thing -- the effort we put in for 60 minutes.

Goalie, Cam Ward will return to net after a two game hiatus. Ward is hungry and anxious to return to game action. The coach has been all over the map with line combinations, but the important thing is that Tuomo Ruutu will be back in the lineup, after missing three games with a leg issue.

The Hurricanes success or failure this year could be resting upon the health of this important player. He brings a physical element to his game that is sorely missed when it's not on the ice. Ruutu also has the necessary skill set which can compliment superstar Eric Staal.

Not only will the Hurricanes look to improve their focus and consistency, they will hope to boost the results of their punchless powerplay, which is 0-14 during the past four games.

The Islanders have lost their last two games and are also looking to turn things around. For news about them, the New Yorkers have a plethora of good blogs to choose from but I always enjoy reading Chris Botta's, (the former Islanders Media Relations Director), "NYI Point Blank Blog" as well as Hockey Buzz and Islanders Blog Box resident B.D. Gallof's "The Bouncing Puck".

Botta has some game information up as well as an interesting article about how new Islanders coach Scott Gordan contacted Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, and asked him about his experience on the Island. Apparently, Laviolette had nothing but good things to say. The writer also brought up the subject about the dismissal of the coach but apparently there is nothing more to report than the already publicized, "player revolt" against Laviolette.

It still would be nice to know why the players took up against their coach and the reason why management sided with the players and not Laviolette, especially after two consecutive years of playoff hockey. Rumor on the street says that a few players had less than positive comments to make about the coach here in Carolina during the post-season fallout, as well.

But that is a different topic for a different day.

The Islanders have scored 14 goals but allowed 21 for the season. The Canes also have a negative scoring differential as they have scored 18 but have allowed 19.

Rick DiPietro should be back in net for the Islanders.

Will ex-Hurricane Doug Weight light the lamp against his old Stanley Cup teammates? Can the Canes keep the puck out of their own end? Will Cam Ward play the way he is capable? Can the team complete a game without anymore new injuries?

All these and more questions to be answered tonight at 7 PM.