Defenseman Joni Pitkanen returned to practice Thursday and possibly could play Sunday against the Ottawa Senators, Canes coach Paul Maurice said.
Pitkanen has missed the last seven games. He took a shot off the foot against the Washington Capitals on Nov. 4, played the next three games, then was sidelined when the pain worsened.
Pitkanen's return will give the Canes eight healthy defensemen, but Maurice said no decision had been made on whom Pitkanen would replace in the lineup.
Justin Faulk was recalled Nov. 17 from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) and has given the Canes some solid play alongside Jay Harrison — Faulk was plus-1 in the 4-3 shootout loss Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens and is plus-1 in four games since the recall. Derek Joslin has been a healthy scratch the last four games.
"What we're talking about now is partners," Maurice said. "I guess when you're thinking aloud, if the two guys who hit a post in the shootout puts it in and you're 3-0, would you make changes? But you didn't so now you're making changes based on events that happened in the game. We're still taking about it."
In the past four games (2-1-1), Maurice has had Tim Gleason paired with Bryan Allen, Faulk with Harrison and Jamie McBain with Tomas Kaberle. During the Habs game, he made a switch and had McBain with Allen and Gleason with Kaberle.
In five-on-five work in Thursday practice, Maurice had the pairs back together.
"You don't want to change the grip too many times on that back end," Maurice said.
In reviewing the team defense in the Montreal game, Maurice said, "We weren't as good as we have been. They've got some speed and they've got some skill, so they're going to get some chances.
"I liked the first period a lot other than the last shift, which was a real problem for us. But we killed that (Tuomo Ruutu high-sticking) penalty off and were good again."
The Canes twice had chances on second-period power plays to push the lead to 3-0, but Lars Eller scored shorthanded for the Habs at 9:06 to make it a 2-1 game.
"From the bench after they scored shorthanded, you're thinking things have fallen," Maurice said. "It wasn't as bad on video. It was more even after that. The first 10 minutes of the third period wasn't very good, but then the last 10 was. The chances were there.
"You want to be careful slipping in that idea that because you're the home team you should dominate and win the game. In that road game against them they beat us up, so we've made small improvements and we need to keep moving forward."
Cam Ward has started the last three games but Maurice did not commit to a goaltender for tomorrow's game against the Winnipeg Jets at the RBC Center. He said backup Brian Boucher would start one of the next three games but would not say which one.