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Isles at Canes: Home Ice Advantage

The Carolina Hurricanes open 2012 at home tonight when they host the New York Islanders for the 7pm start. The game will not be broadcast on Fox Sports, so either get yourself a ticket or find a TV with a subscription to Center Ice.

The Canes are looking to build on a 3-game win streak at home dating back to the OT win over Ottawa December 23rd. Since returning from the Canadian roadtrip in mid-December they've gone 4-1-0 in 5 home games. Carolina plays 3 of their next 4 games in Raleigh.

On the season the Hurricanes are 9-10-2 at home, and 4-4 under Kirk Muller in the RBC Center.

This is the first stop in a 3-game roadtrip for the Islanders who put together back-to-back wins over Calgary and Edmonton in Nassau last week. They are 5-8-3 on the road.

Hurricanes Notes

The big news from practice yesterday was the appearance of Jeff Skinner who took to the ice for the first time since December 7th, wearing a yellow no-contact jersey. There is still no schedule for his return to the line up as he rehabilitates from a concussion, but having him out there doing the drills and grinning ear-to-ear throughout was a big step, and it seemed to lift the mood of the team.

It was a good test session, and #53 skated hard in many of the drills for over an hour. He was set to be evaluated today to see how he responded to the exertion and is back out skating this morning. The next step is for the doctors to clear him for contact - hopefully sooner than later. Then it's just a matter of getting back up to speed, in every sense of the term. posted this 6-minute video with Skinner following the practice Tuesday. For a full set of photos of Skinner and the rest of the team, Jamie Kellner has posted her most excellent contributions of all the players and coaches here. (Sample shown at right)

Patrick Dwyer is progressing from an undisclosed UBI, and we hear he joined Skinner today at the morning skate with the team. Dwyer was also wearing yellow. This makes for some interesting decisions ahead when these two wingers are ready to play.

After practice Tuesday, Coach Muller said that Joni Pitkanen was further out in his recovery with nothing more specific on when to look for him to return. He has missed 11 games so far.

The line up tonight remains unchanged from the last few outings.

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Zac Dalpe
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Drayson Bowman - Brandon Sutter - Chad LaRose
Andreas Nodl - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart

Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Tim Gleason - Jamie McBain
Bryan Allen - Jaroslav Spacek

Cam Ward is expected to start. The Canes have a back-to-back pair this weekend (Buffalo/Nashville) and perhaps Muller has Justin Peters penciled in to start one of those.

Eric Staal has put together a couple of great games, first carrying the team in a comeback victory over the Maple Leafs Thursday with a 2-goal, 3 point night. Saturday he set up a pair of power play goals vs the Lightning. He has taken over the top spot on the team for scoring with 25 points though the plus/minus of minus-22 still stings. He was the team's leading scorer in December with 13 points (4 G, 9A) in 14 games.

With Skinner sidelined, here are the Canes' 3 top point producers.

G A P +/- PIM
2011-12 Eric Staal 9 16 25 -22 18
2011-12 Tuomo Ruutu 14 8 22 -1 34
2011-12 Jussi Jokinen 4 18 22 -2 26

Staal, Bowman, Faulk and McBain all have two-game point streaks.

For more on statistics and other notes, check out the extensive Game Notes - Islanders at Hurricanes, Jan 3 (38 page .pdf)

Kirk Muller - practice audio (4:18) Leads off with a New York reporter asking Muller if he was hesitant to take a head coaching position because he wasn't ready for the role. (Answer:No) and so forth.

Canes enter 2012 knowing where they stand - Canes Now The Canes' locker room once had updated Eastern Conference standings posted, with the teams' records and points. That was discontinued at some point this season, but coach Kirk Muller wants it back again -- a daily reminder of where the Canes stand and where they want to go.

Gameday: Hurricanes vs. Islanders - Tracking the Storm Looking at the statistics, it’s easy to draw similarities between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders. But tonight's game won't be easy.

Islanders perspective

This is the first meeting of four scheduled this season between the Canes and the Isles, both of whom are the current cellar-dwellars in the Eastern Conference. This is also the only remaining Eastern team the Canes have yet to face this season.

Worth mentioning that next season the two teams will be in the same conference, and we'll see the Islanders 6 times each year competing for a playoff spot vs the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers, Devils and Capitals.

New York continue to rely on John Tavares but P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson are also putting up some numbers. Last year's Calder Trophy nominee, Michael Grabner has yet to make the impact he did last year, with 16 points (10G, 6 A) at mid-season.

Another familiar name, Nino Niederreiter will make his first appearance in Raleigh. The Swiss teenager was high on the list for many of us in the 2010 draft. The Islanders selected him 5th overall that year, and the Canes ended up with Jeff Skinner, thank you very much. "El Nino" has been hampered with injuries a couple times this season so only has 13 game played so far, with just one goal notched so far in 2011-12.

Through 36 games, here are New York's scoring leaders:

G A P +/- PIM
2011-12 P.A. Parenteau 7 25 32 -4 29
2011-12 John Tavares 13 18 31 -7 14
2011-12 Matt Moulson 17 14 31 3 6

The Islanders overall have struggled with offense all season, They have scored just 84 times in 36 games (for an average of 2.28 Goals/Game), 15th the East, which is15 goals less than the 14th ranked Canadiens. For comparison, the Hurricanes have scored 103 times in four more games, averaging 2.58 G/G.

As seems to be the case every year, injuries to goaltenders wreak havoc on the Islanders goalie rotation. Currently Al Montoya is out with a concussion suffered in Winnipeg last month, and Rick "The Teacup" DiPietro is out with an injured groin, so it looks like the well-traveled Russian, Evgeni Nabokov, will start tonight. He has put up an impressive 6-1-1 record over his career vs the Canes, but that was entirely with the San Jose Sharks.

2011-12 Evgeni Nabokov 14 706 4 8 0 29 2.46 359 330 .919 0
Career vs Carolina Evgeni Nabokov 9 490 6 1 1 17 2.08 224 207 ..924 1

For some more notes from the NYI end of the bench,

Planning your evening

Again - there will be no local television (and a heads-up that the same goes for Friday's game vs the Buffalo Sabres ), so either buy a ticket, find Center Ice (Or GameCenterLive on the web), or be content with the radio call of the one-and-only Chuck Kaiton.

As always, our crew will be blogging live from rinkside on the Canes Country open game thread. We should have that up and running about 30 minutes prior to the start. Stop by to check out what Bob and Brian are seeing and hearing from press row.

Finally - a note that the Ukrainian LW Alexei Ponikarovsky will be the guest of Mike Maniscalco this Thursday, January 5 at Backyard Bistro for the Canes Corner spot on 99.9 the Fan.