RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes again will be without Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen tonight when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their return to the lineup remains uncertain.
Skinner and Pitkanen are sidelined indefinitely as they recover from concussions. Canes coach Kirk Muller said Wednesday that neither has been cleared by doctors to resume any physical activity.
"Once he gets past (the doctor's test), that's the first step," Muller said of Skinner. "Once he gets past those, he can get into the routine of more workouts ... to the point he gets all cleared and then he can eventually, some time, get back with us. Right now, he's in the process of trying to get cleared from the test he's got to go though.
"Same with Joni. Same story. Just waiting for the doctors, to get their approval, and then from there it's that step-by-step where you get back working out and from there it moves on to eventually you get back playing."
Skinner, who was the Canes' top scorer, has missed the last eight games and has not played since Dec. 7, when he absorbed an open-ice hit from the Edmonton Oilers' Andy Sutton. Pitkanen, the Canes' most skilled defenseman, last played Dec. 6 in Calgary.
Carolina's injury issues don't end there, however.
Backup goalie Brian Boucher was injured Dec. 5 during a team practice in Calgary. Muller said Boucher is in long-term recovery mode for a lower-body injury and may be out a month or two.
Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek missed practice Wednesday but will play tonight against the Leafs, Muller said.
"He's a little warrior," the coach said.
Forward Patrick Dwyer missed Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins with an upper-body injury, and Muller said Wednesday the team still was waiting on the doctors' report on Dwyer.
Zac Dalpe, an emergency call-up from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, replaced Dwyer and played Tuesday against the Penguins on Eric Staal's line opposite left wing Drayson Bowman. In Wednesday's practice, Muller had Jiri Tlusty on Staal's line with Dalpe, moving Bowman to Brandon Sutter's line with Chad LaRose.
"I thought, throw a couple of kids with (Staal) and let them go," Muller said of playing Dalpe and Bowman on the top line against Pittsburgh. "But I thought Pittsburgh did a really good job. They matched some of their top D against them. That's a big step for the kids. It's a learning curve.
"I thought, take a chance, put the two kids with him and see if we could get a little offense there. But it's a tough team to start off with."
Dalpe logged 12 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time in the Canes' 4-2 loss with one shot and two hits. He was minus-2 for the game, as were Staal and Bowman.
"It's a tough game to judge him on," Muller said. "He had a long Christmas break, then he comes back and jumps into a game against Pittsburgh. They're fresh, they're ready to go. I just said, 'Listen, you got your feet wet in that game. Just be prepared to go tomorrow, don't take too much judgment on that first game.'"