Once Canes teammates, Tlusty, Kaberle on different paths

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2013 

— One is getting a lot of ice time, playing well, enjoying himself. The other, not so much.

One is a former NHL All-Star and Olympian, considered a star in his home country. The other is trying to reach that level.

Jiri Tlusty of the Carolina Hurricanes and Tomas Kaberle of the Montreal Canadiens remain close friends. They dined together last week – along with the Canadiens’ Tomas Plekanec – the night before the Canes faced the Habs at PNC Arena.

But when the game was played Thursday, Tlusty was on the ice at forward and Kaberle, a defenseman, was a healthy scratch. Such is the state of things for the two natives of the Czech Republic.

Tlusty has gotten the opportunity to play on Eric Staal’s line with Alexander Semin this season and made the most of it – 13 goals, eight assists. He ranks among the NHL leaders in the plus/minus rating at plus-17 and is showing the ability and skills that made him a first-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006.

Tlusty did not have a point against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday but was sound in the defensive zone and blocked three shots in the Canes’ 4-0 road win.

"He’s a hard-working guy," Kaberle said. "He goes to the areas that some others don’t and can do the dirty job, and he’s picking up the points as well. I’m every happy for him."

With the NHL tied up in a labor dispute and the players locked out, Tlusty went back home to play pro hockey in his hometown of Kladno. Much has been made of him playing on a line with Jaromir Jagr and Plekanec, of the jolt of confidence he got from it, and Kaberle was there to see it.

"He was playing good in Kladno and he picked up where he left off when the (NHL) season began," Kaberle said. ""In some of the games, that line was dominating teams. It was nice to see. He’s still a young kid, so hopefully he can get better and better."

Tlusty, 24, and Kaberle, 35, once were teammates with the Leafs before Tlusty’s trade to Carolina in December 2009. Kaberle, a four-time NHL All-Star and former Czech Olympian, helped Tlusty through some off-ice problems and was a confidante when needed.

Kaberle was traded by Toronto to the Boston Bruins in 2011, helping the Bruins win the Stanley Cup. Signed to a megabuck free-agent contract by the Hurricanes in July 2011, Kaberle and Tlusty again became teammates.

But their paths were to part again. The Hurricanes traded Kaberle to Montreal after 29 games, disappointed by his play and looking to move his big contract.

Kaberle played 43 games for the Habs last season. He has been in just 10 games this season and was a healthy scratch for 12 straight games.

"We’ve spent a lot of time together, training in the summers the last six or seven years, and we know each other so well," Tlusty said. "It’s sad to see him not playing. I think he’s still a really good D-man and it’s just tough. They have good depth on their ’D’ and it has been hard for him to jump into the lineup."

Tlusty now appears to be a fixture in the Canes’ lineup and possibly among the top six forwards. Given the right circumstances, he could become a 25 to 30-goal scorer, Kaberle believes.

"I could see that," Kaberle said. "As long as he stays healthy. He’s had some issues with his shoulder before, and his knee. But I could see that, yes.”

Kaberle said he was the one stuck with the dinner bill last week on the night out with Tlusty and Plekanec. It had nothing to do with seniority, however.

"Back home we always play rock, paper, scissors for everything," Tlusty said, smiling. "So we played and he lost. He has to pick up his game in rock, paper, scissors."

For now, everything is going Tlusty’s way.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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