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It looks like the decisions on what the Carolina Hurricanes will do with Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe have been postponed past another game, as among the Canes recently held out for injury, only Joni Pitkanen is likely to return to take on the Atlanta Thrashers for the 1:30 matinee Sunday. And Pitkanen has some pending news of his own that may affect his status.

Meanwhile, last night's win in Florida put the Canes back over 50% likelihood of getting a ticket to the playoffs. As calculated by SportsClubStats, they haven't had chances this strong since the 7-1 beat down of the Edmonton Oilers back on November 9th.

Update from today: Canes Fighting Through Minor Injuries - Paul Branecky, Tracking the Storm They’ve managed to avoid anything serious, but the Hurricanes’ training room has seen much more activity in recent weeks.

In comments after practice  [Audio, 5 minutes], Paul Maurice has his observations about last night's game. He was especially pleased with the effort from Tuomo Ruutu. He also answers questions on what Boychuk and Dalpe bring to the ice while avoiding an answer of whether Ruutu or Jeff Skinner will be playing center vs Atlanta tomorrow.

If you haven't heard, Joni Pitkanen has been cleared to play in Sunday's matinee, but did not skate at today's practice. Instead, he is attending to his wife, Sini, who is close to delivering the couple's first child. Therefore, his status for tomorrow's game has not been determined. 

More notes from practice here at Canes Now - Pitkanen could be back in lineup Jussi Jokinen and Jiri Tlusty skated but won't play. Ryan Carter, out with an UBI, did not skate and is not likely to play either. Cam Ward is not feeling 100% and tomorrow's starter-in-goal is not certain at this point.

After the jump, some recaps from the game, looking at the mid-season reviews, lots of prospects making news, and how much longer before we're watching the Charlotte Checkers on television in Raleigh.

Local Links

Some recaps of last night's "important" win.

From Saturday morning's newspaper: Canes do it again - Skinner's first goal was what's now a "Skinner special" as he feinted a shot in the slot, maneuvered around defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and wristed a shot past Vokoun at 1:46.

And last night's post at Canes Now - For Canes, an important victory 

 It's hard to overstate the importance of the Canes' 5-3 victory Friday over the Florida Panthers. After a pair of overtime losses, one to the Panthers to begin the week, the Canes needed to play well and win. After being roughed up in his last start, last month at Tampa Bay, goaltender Justin Peters needed to play well and win. After finally shaking out of the BankAtlantic Center doldrums with a comeback win last month, the Canes needed to back it up with another win to put more distance between them and the Panthers in the standings.

From the Miami press, On Frozen Pond: Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Staal, Skinner lead Carolina to 5-3 Win over Florida Panthers

"[Skinner]'s a really skilled player and when he has the puck, he's got some moves,'' Florida's Chris Higgins said. "It's tough to play against him. He backs our defenders back because of his one-on-one moves and it's obvious he can finish.''

And here once more is your link to see how this all fits into the bigger scheme of things Canes up to 51% chance of making the playoffs which also indicates that a win tomorrow would add another 6%. A loss to the Thrash knocks off 8%.

Recent features on young Carolina hockey players not named Jeff:

Canes relying more on McBain - Jamie McBain was on the ice Wednesday when the New York Rangers scored the winning goal in overtime, and he may have had the best view of it.

Kurt Dusterberg at Not-So-Distant Future: Boychuk, Dalpe may dictate roster changes 


Around the League


Someone's hard at work putting the NHL GM's February Sales Catalog together: The Fourth Period: Trade Deadline 2011 :: Top 25 Available Players 

The recent termination of GM Darryl Sutter has not exactly resolved the situation for the Calgary FlamesCANOE -- SLAM! Sports Sutter brothers in uncomfortable silence Asked if he’d spoken to his older brother since he was dismissed as Flames GM last Tuesday, coach Brent shook his head and lowered his eyes. "No," he said quietly.

From Jamie Langenbrunner's day in limbo: Fire & Ice: Parise spends final day with Langenbrunner as teammates. Zach Parise : He was really good for me when I was younger. There’s certain guys in your career that really help you and right from the start he always did things to make sure I was comfortable, whether it was having me over for dinner or whatever. He was really good to me and my family right from my first year.

I was fascinated by this personal portrait of the Toronto Maple Leafs' beleaguered Head Coach, Ron Wilson. With Paul Maurice having lived through a similar set of circumstances, it may be more relevant than you might think. A Leafs Fan Blogs - Zen of Ron Wilson


Mid-Season reviews


Yep - it is indeed the turning point as most teams will play game 41 this week. And the hockey press takes that as a great excuse to write a bunch of overview stories.

Mid-Season Awards: Top Rookies - Versus Skinner gets some love from the guys at Versus Hockey Central (But then: How could he not?)



Red Light District's Ryan Porth has two for you to peruse: Mid-Season Reports: Eastern Conference and Red Light District: Teams and Players to Watch in Second Half

The schedule-makers did not receive a Christmas card from Paul Maurice over the holidays. The good news for the ‘Canes, though, is that they’ve kept their heads above water while traveling the world in the first half. Now with more home games than road for the rest of the way, a lurking Carolina club could make some noise here in the second half.

Will the Southeast Division send four teams to the playoffs? - Puck Daddy Aided by the collapse of some teams and the disarray of others, the Division Formerly Known As The Southleast currently holds five of the top 10 spots in the conference.

Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Lidstrom top NHL midseason awards - Michael Farber - named Logan Couture as their pick for the Calder, but they can't overlook Skinner either.


2011 NHL ASG


The Coaches for the two teams at the 2011 NHL All-Star game have been determined. Via Sean Leahy:

With Philly's win today & Vancouver's last night, All Star Game coaches set: Joel Quenneville vs. Peter Laviolette & Alain Vigneault

The coaches will be assigned to each team by a coin toss immediately prior to the player draft on January 28th. Is there anything awkward about the very possible scenario whereby we see Laviolette coaching Team Staal, playing as the home team at the RBC Center that weekend?


Lots of lofty PR spin and hyped-up announcements in this synopsis of the season's second half from Storylines swirl, excitement builds as NHL season reaches midpoint. I did however glean a little bit more about the expanded TV coverage of the ASG Fantasy Draft set for 8pm on January 28th. Sounds like they are planning to run with it. Excellent.

A player draft that will determine the team rosters will be televised live on TSN in Canada and VERSUS in the U.S. at 8 p.m., ET. NHL Network also will be on-site, providing pre- and post-draft coverage of the new All-Star format and player draft selections


As we speculate on whether Cam Ward will be one of the five goalies included in the ASG's full-roster announcement Tuesday, this seemed to be a worthy, though perhaps a tad back-handed, compliment this week from Hockey Prospectus' Player Power Rankings as they put Ward at #6 for top players in the League.

6. Cam Ward: It's a sign of the poor teams Ward has played on and his late maturation as a goaltender that his shutout this week was only the 14th in his career in 304 games. In fewer games, Ilya Bryzgalov has 18, Niklas Backstrom 20 and Tim Thomas 22.


And finally this story highlighted a great idea as it reminded me that this All-Star Game is not just for the Carolina hockey community: NC businesses, workers get primer before NHL game :: Wake Technical Community College wants to make sure business owners and hospitality workers put on Raleigh's best face for the NHL All-Star Weekend.



Charlotte Checkers


Though Mike McKenzie is currently on loan to the ECHL Everblades, he's doing quite well, thank you very much. Florida's McKenzie is Named ECHL Rookie Of The Month, which presents his achievements thus: 

The 24 year old scored nine goals and added eight assists for 17 points in 14 games during the month as the Everblades went 9-4-1. McKenzie had five multi-point games and three power play goals along with a +5 rating during the month.


I always enjoy these posts from the radio voice of the Charlotte Checkers, Jason Shaya. This week's entry: 10 thoughts from Shaya | Checkers Chatter includes this not-so-subtle hint for a possible venue where the Checkers might play next season: Apparently, when Hershey played Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, the teams got a tour of the facility and the lockerrooms. You can imagine the young WBS players in the AHL wanting to make the NHL that much more to be able to call that building home. It would also be great to have a Checkers game at the RBC Center, wouldn’t it?


Chip Alexander caught up with Checkers' COO Tera Black, and others who are part of the team this week, with this article that ran in the N&O Wednesday. Checkers thriving under Canes' affiliation - Along with quotes from former Rats like Justin Pogge and Jeff Daniels on what the move to Charlotte has meant, the story explains that the televised game we told you about last May has been set for January 14th - this coming Friday.

Black said an agreement with Time Warner Cable will result in some of the Checkers games being televised. The first, she said, would be January 14 against the Manchester (N.H.) Monarchs and would be available on Time Warner Cable in the Triangle.


The Checkers returned to Albany this weekend and last night defeated the AHL Devils by a final score of 4-2. The Albany Times Union spoke with a few members of their former home team at Hockey Spoken Here -, including Nick Dodge who scored the opening goal.

On reasons for the team’s slow start this season:

"We’ve got a pretty young squad here, a lot of young faces, so maybe it took a little bit of time to get our feet underneath us, to learn what we needed to do to win games and get a little confidence in ourselves. Once we got a few wins under the belt, the team got a lot more confident and played a lot more relaxed."

On adjusting to a new city:

"It was a new rink for everybody, new living arrangements. Normally when we were in Albany, if you have new guys coming in, you have old guys who know where to live, know where the rink is, where to eat and everything. There was definitely an adjustment period when nobody had been in Charlotte before, nobody knew where to go or what the rink’s like."


Finally - this was pretty clever. The Checkers spend a day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and "took part in the many activities the Hall has to offer". I've embedded the video below to hear from recent arrival Brett Sutter and watch the usually somber-faced Drayson Bowman laughing at their record-setting time in the Pit crew simulator. (Video below.)

All of this is part of the upcoming January 14th "Race Night" at Charlotte's TWC Arena which supports a special fundraising effort for young Zach Bennett, a longtime fan of the team from when they were back in Albany, with ticket discounts and more to help him get to Charlotte for better medical care.




WJC wrap-up


It's all over but the debriefing and evaluations. Some stories about the 2011 World Juniors' Championships, as Russia, Canada and USA bring home the medals.

WJC Aftermath: Evaluating the Defensemen :: The United States of Hockey tells us this about the Canes prospects:

  • Brian Dumoulin — His first pass was usually really good and he helped make Chris Kreider’s dagger goal happen against Sweden. The bronze-medal game was one of this best, which is good to see, because Sweden’s forward group was incredibly skilled and guys like Dumoulin shut them down.
  • Justin Faulk — 6 GP, 1-3–4, 0 PIM, +2 — I thought Faulk was brilliant in this tournament. The thing that makes him special is the way he can protect the puck in his own zone. He’s so strong, that it’s hard to knock him down and even harder to lift his stick. He made a few moves throughout the tournament in his own zone that only he could make.


The five-goal third period comeback by the Russian teens Wednesday couldn't help but inspire anyone who ever loved a hockey underdog, while the corresponding collapse of Team Canada brought many fans only some painful hockey heartache. Canadian sportswriter Bruce Arthur had this up shortly after the game: Canada has no monopoly on heart | National Post

We ask so much of these kids, and they ask so much of themselves. They’re no longer boys and not quite men, most of them, and when the world junior hockey championships roll around all the nation does is ask them to live up to everyone who came before them, to live up to Canadian hockey. 


YouTube - What they're saying (Russian Celebrations) because we all really wanted to know.


At least for me, Thursday morning's Russian hangover made the whole story no less appealing:  Report: Russian junior team too drunk to fly after beating Canada - Puck Daddy


Injury reports (and suspensions)


Meeting with the Pittsburgh press after the Penguins' practice today, Sidney Crosby was clearly unhappy with the two recent hits to the head he's received in games the last week. Video: Sidney Crosby discusses concussion, two hits to head | ProHockeyTalk

He said that this is the first time he’s ever had to deal with a concussion and discussed some of the symptoms, saying he just "felt off" during the team’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Crosby also noted that he "didn’t like" the hits delivered by Hedman and Steckel, although he said he wasn’t sure if the league should have disciplined Steckel for the hit.

Yesterday it was confirmed that Crosby to miss at least a week with concussion - and there are murmurs out there today that "at least" are the operative words there.


First the Habs lost Andrei Markov, now another Montreal Canadiens defenseman is done for the season. Josh Gorges got into specifics here: Montreal Gazette - Gorges scratches 7-year itch Season-ending surgery will close chapter on an injury suffered during junior days


Injured Rick DiPietro headed home for evaluation - That the New York Islanders only just traded away their other veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Bay Lightning may be the only thing that sets this iteration apart from all the umpteen previous times we've heard this.


Highly relevant to the Hurricanes who tomorrow host Atlanta at the RBC Center for the first time this season, Thrashers' Eager suspended four games for sucker-punch The National Hockey League has suspended Atlanta Thrashers forward Ben Eager four games for his sucker-punch to the eye of Maple Leafs winger Colby Armstrong in Friday's 9-3 Toronto victory. Canes fans will remember Eager for his late nasty hit on Jiri Tlusty last month and the scrap with Troy Bodie that ensued. 


Hurricanes Alumni


Mike Commodore is no longer traveling along with the Columbus Blue Jackets on their west coast trip, this after he was quoted in a story yesterday, Blue Jackets' Commodore waived, lashes out at coach. Commodore told the Columbus Dispatch:

"I've sat quiet and I've worked my (butt) off all year. I haven't said anything, while Arniel has gone to the media and said, basically, that I can't play. It gets to the point where I have to have some personal pride and I have to stand up for myself."


From last night, along with Anton Babchuk having a 3-point game vs the Detroit Red Wings, comes this Video: Brad Stuart's jaw broken on brutal Kostopoulos hit - Puck Daddy. We haven't heard officially, but most predict that Tom Kostopoulos will get at least a one-game suspension, and will thus miss the game Tuesday when the Calgary Flames visit Carolina. More on this here. Stuart was evaluated today, and while he won't require surgery, he can expect to miss 6 to 8 weeks.

I suppose this could also be filed under the Charlotte Checkers heading too: Video: Watch Jesse Boulerice bump ref, earn 10-game suspension - Puck Daddy The Jesse Boulerice reaction [to what he felt was a missed slashing call], in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins' game at Charlotte on Jan. 5? Kicking the puck at the official and then softly checking him into the boards.




Finally, for all of us who were so sorry when it was over Wednesday night, we have reason to be hopeful: HBO’s 24/7 eyes NHL Playoffs - The Globe and Mail United States cable broadcaster wants more after success of hockey reality television series.