Having set his line combinations, Canes coach Kirk Muller is taking a look at new defensive pairings for the Buffalo Sabres (2-0).
Muller is making Joe Corvo a healthy scratch for tonight's game. Jamie McBain, who sat out the first two games, will be paired with Joni Pitkanen, and Bobby Sanguinetti with Jay Harrison. Tim Gleason and Justin Faulk will stay together.
Cam Ward will be in goal tonight, although it's possible Dan Ellis could start tomorrow against the Sabres in Buffalo. Muller said the decision would wait until after tonight's game.
"The important thing is I challenged our guys yesterday to play harder and raise your game and (Ward) is part of that group," Muller said. "I don't think you can challenge a group without giving a guy an opportunity to come back. He's a competitor, and he's going to have the ball tonight and he's got to get the job done."
"One thing I learned when I came here is that Buiffalo is a good rivalry to our fans," Muller said. "Being back-to-back it's going to be a couple of hard-fought days. They're playing, they're playing hard. Lindy (Ruff) has got them playing well defensively, so we've got to be ready to play a good, solid 60 minutes."
The lines tonight will have Eric Staal centering Jiri Tlusty and Alex Semin; Jordan Staal centering Jeff Skinner and Zac Dalpe; Jussi Jokinen at center with Drayson Bowman and Chad LaRose. Muller said he would wait until game time before deciding on the fourth line, but it appears it will be Tim Brent centering Kevin Westgarth and Pat Dwyer.
"We're all healthy, we've got the guys in the right combinations," Muller said. "If you look at it, we've got three lines up front that have the ability to produce and play well defensively. We've got a fourth line that some nights it might change here and there will different personnel."
Pitkanen and McBain played together at times last season and there's a comfort level in the pairing. Sanguinetti, who earned his roster spot with strong play in Charlotte (AHL) this year, was with Pitkanen the first two games but may feel less pressure in the third pairing with Harrison.
The Canes have yet to play with a lead in the first two games. They trailed Florida 4-0 after the first and Tampa Bay 2-0 after one. A better, stronger start is imperative.
"When you trail in six periods it's a different game," Muller said. "How you use your bench, which guys you use. But we need better first periods. We come out tentative for some reason. We have to come out hard tonight and just play simple and have a good first period."
Muller said getting a win and two points would be "like putting your cards in the game." Until a team wins, there will be that anxiousness.
"Once that happens it's easier to play according to the game plan," Muller said.
The Sabres topped Philadelphia 5-2 in the their opener and then edged Toronto 2-1 as Ryan Miller started both games in goal. The Sabres had 41 shots in the first game, then 20 in the second.
What the Canes need is a win, by any score, by any method.
"We just need to keep working at it, keep grinding away," Jeff Skinner said.