Staal back for ‘good push’ in practice

Posted by Chip Alexander on January 12, 2014 

The Canes had a different look at Sunday's practice at PNC Arena.

Captain Eric Staal was back. Zach Boychuk and Brett Sutter were gone. Jeff Skinner was back at wing, and Elias Lindholm at center. Manny Malhotra was taking a maintenance day and missed the workout.

Jiri Tlusty, who should play his first game Monday since his appendectomy before Christmas, was on the third line centered by Lindholm. Riley Nash, out four games with a lower-body injury, centered the fourth line with Drayson Bowman and Tuomo Ruutu -- Boychuk and Sutter have been reassigned to the Charlotte Checkers (AHL.)

Staal has missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, and both he and Canes coach Kirk Muller said they wanted to see how he responded to Sunday's practice. With Staal back, Skinner was shifted from center back to left wing on the top line opposite Alexander Semin.

"We'll see how I feel tomorrow but I feel good now," Staal said after the practice. "It's getting better, so we'll see how my body responds tomorrow."

The practice, Muller said, was a "good push" for Staal, Tlusty and Nash as the Canes prepared to face the Calgary Flames on Monday. It had a brisk pace and included some scrimmaging, and Muller at one point demanded the players pick up their "battle level."

Malhotra is expected to play against the Flames, and Muller said there could be line changes.

The Canes' five-game winning streak ended Friday in Columbus. The Blue Jackets took a 2-0 lead late in the first period and won 3-0 as goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had 36 saves.

"We just started out a little slow," defenseman John-Michael Liles said. "It's been an interesting stretch. Cancelled game (Tuesday in Buffalo), travel, back-to-back. I thought we came out a little bit on our heels and against that team it's tough. They got a lead and from then on was just sitting back. They were pretty much in a 1-4 and playing a game they wanted to play.

"I thought we still generated some chances but their goaltender made the saves that they needed. Ultimately, I think that's what it came down to in the end. They got the 2-0 lead and those chances we were able to generate he made some pretty big saves. That's how it goes sometimes. You're going to have those games. You take it and you learn from it."

Canes goalie Anton Khudobin, after winning his first six decisions of the season, picked up his first loss against the Jackets. Muller said he didn't believe it would affect the Russian, who is pretty loose off the ice.

"His demeanor after, he wasn't happy with a couple (of goals). I think he wished he had those back," Muller said. "But he's been playing well. After those first couple goals, he settled down and got going and later on the game he got better and better. I don't think it's going to affect him. I think he's focused and ready to get going again."

Muller did not say who would start in net against the Flames. Injured goalie Cam Ward has skated a couple of times on his own, Muller said, but is not ready to rejoin team practices. Ward has been out since Dec. 31 with a lower-body injury.

The Canes have 12 games before the Olympic break, nine at home. It could be a key stretch, especially with other teams in the Metropolitan Division on an uptick.

"It seems like it's kind of been segments -- up until Christmas and up until the Olympic break, and then the stretch drive after," Staal said of the schedule. "We need to make sure we respond with some great efforts and keep doing what we're doing and pick up the points."

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