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No answer for Skinner, Pitkanen return

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Everybody wants answers and these days they want 'em now.

When will Jeff Skinner be back? When will Joni Pitkanen be back? When will Brian Boucher be back? Canes fans want to know and want to know now.

The answer no one wants to hear is that no one can say.

Skinner has not played a game since Dec. 7 in Edmonton. Pitkanen last played Dec. 6 in Calgary. Boucher was injured Dec. 5 in the team practice in Calgary.

Canes coach Kirk Muller said today neither Skinner nor Pitkanen, sidelined indefinitely following concussions, have 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."

Boucher, Muller has said, is in a long-term recovery mode for a lower-body injury and may need a month or two.

Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek missed today's practice but will play against the Leafs, Muller said. "He's a little warrior," the coach said.

Patrick Dwyer missed Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins with an upper-body injury and Muller said the team still was waiting on the doctors' reports.

Zac Dalpe was an emergency callup from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) with Dwyer out and was used Tuesday on Eric Staal's line opposite left wing Drayson Bowman against the Penguins. In today's practice, Muller had Jiri Tlusty on Staal's line with Dalpe, moving Bowman to Brandon Sutter's line.

"I thought throw a couple of kids with (Staal) and let them go," Muller said. "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 had 12:43 in ice time, 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 on him," 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 on that game. Just be prepared to go tomorrow, don't take too much judgment on that first game.'"

Skinner was the Canes' top scorer and a key component on the power play. He is being badly missed, as evidenced by Canes being last in the NHL on the power play.

"Skinner's a big loss for a guy who can set plays up and come off the goal line," Muller said.

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About the blogger

A Raleigh native, Chip has worked at the N&O since 1979 and is the Canes beat writer. He can be reached at chip.alexander@newsobserver.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @ice_chip.
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