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Skinner likely headed back to wing

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Canes coach Paul Maurice made a line change late in Friday's game at Chicago, moving Jussi Jokinen to center and Jeff Skinner back to the wing.

Liking what he saw, Maurice said today he may stick with it Wednesday against the Atlanta Thrashers. Jokinen likely will center Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu, with Chad LaRose taking Jokinen's wing spot on the Brandon Sutter line.

"We think strength down the middle is a very critical piece to this," Maurice said. "Jeff's done a good job there but he's spending a lot of energy on the breakouts and he's not conserving as much. Maybe it's time ... "

Skinner scored a goal against the Blackhawks just after the move to the wing. He was 0-for-12 on faceoffs against the 'Hawks and has made some defensive mistakes the past few games at center.

"The fact of the matter is we've had a bunch of guys struggling (on draws)," Maurice said. "He's got to learn. ... But the fact of the matter is our best faceoff man (Jokinen) is sitting on the wing right now. We'll probably have to get (Jokinen) taking more of those faceoffs."

Justin Peters started the Blackhawks game in goal, ending Cam Ward's streak at 24 straight. Maurice said Sunday that Ward should start every game the rest of the regular season.

"He should be well-rested and fresh," Maurice said. "We have enough blocks of time off between our blocks of games. We ran him 22, 23 in a row ... so this should be easy for him. Unless something comes up where he's not right or not feeling right ... I would expect him to be ready to go."

Maurice said Ward did not ask to sit out the Chicago game.

"He won't do that," he said. "Even if there's an injury or there's something you're worried about he's not going to tell you he can't play. None of those guys will.

"We assessed where he was physically after the (Buffalo) game and made that decision after that game."

Peters allowed two goals in the first period but the Blackhawks led just 2-1 entering the third. Chicago then struck three times in five minutes for a 5-1 lead before Skinner's goal late.

"There was a block of 10 minutes at the start of the game I didn't like," Maurice said. "Then we gave up some big chances and we had some big chances. It was 30 minutes of let the goalie fend for himself."

Chicago's third goal came when the puck hit off Joni Pitkanen's skate in front of Peters.

"A bad break," Maurice said, "because at 2-1 you're right there. But 3-1 against a good team, that's a tougher hill to climb and I think we kind of sagged a little bit after that."

The team had Saturday off and Maurice planned to use Sunday's practice for some long, grinding even-strength work, but a broken compressor gave the RecZone rink surface a pond appearance. The players worked out off-ice instead.

"We would have preferred to skate today but it's not that big a deal really," Maurice said. "These four days were going to be good one way or the other, and we haven't lost the time. We'll have two full days of recovery, then get back fresh tomorrow."
 

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Good...

Skinner is a young player and he's gonna be great for a long time, but right now, over these past 3 weeks or so, he's been a real defensive liability. I cringe every time that line takes the ice and it wasn't like that earlier in the year.

The Real Liability

Mo can do what he wants with Skinner, but the real liability on this team ... defensively and offensively ... is LaRose. The guy has run out the string on that career year he had two years ago. We're paying $1.9 million for a guy who can't finish, can't keep up, makes dumb defensive decisions, and whose idea of offense is dumping the puck into the zone. Sit him and, at the end of the season, let him go.

Fourth Line

for LaRose and maybe penalty kills only-not the top three lines

Play gets faster, harder,

Play gets faster, harder, and meaner as the playoffs approach. Meanwhile this is a very long season for an 18 year-old body. 

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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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