UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Joni Pitkanen had knee surgery Sept. 10, missing training camp, and has been able to practice only a few times. He missed five of the Canes' first six games, and had to leave the one game he played because of knee pain.
Yet, Pitkanen played more than 28 minutes the last game, against New Jersey. The defenseman may do the same tonight against the New York Islanders. How hard is that — all that ice time with little or no practice?
"Last game, the first period was pretty tough," Pitkanen said today after the morning skate at Nassau Coliseum. "The game is so quick. It's not even close to practice.
"I was pretty nervous before the game about how I was going to feel. I missed all of the preseason."
And to play 28 minutes?
"As the game went on, I felt pretty good," he said. "I worked pretty hard this summer and I think I'm in pretty good shape, so I was pretty happy.
"It's getting better every day. I can handle the puck better, do everything better."
Canes coach Paul Maurice said he will send out six defensemen again tonight, meaning he's counting on Pitkanen to again carry a high-minute load.
"To be honest, we are surprised by how well he played in New Jersey," he said. "It was evident early he was moving when he caught a guy in the back-check.
"What it is, is a statement of his skill set. He's so highly skilled, but even with time off he's still able to come out and be our best passing defenseman at times and move the puck and get a feel for the game.
"In practice yesterday it looked like he hadn't missed anything all year. He says he feels good, so we're just going to play him. He actually feels better the more he plays -- he stays warm and he stays in the rotation."
Pitkanen injured his knee at Nassau Coliseum last October — in the same game Brandon Sutter was injured -- and missed the next eight games. But he said he doesn't mind playing at the aging arena.
"It's nice ... when you win," he said, smiling.