TAMPA -- The Canes' Jeff Skinner is disappointed not to be playing tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. After sitting out the past 14 games recovering from a concussion, he wants back in the lineup and was hoping tonight would be the night.
Then again, he said he can accept the reasoning for holding him out another game or two.
"I know what's going on and we have to be patient," Skinner said today after the morning skate at Tampa Bay Times Forum. "It's been tough being patient to this point but there's no point in rushing it. It's obviously the smart thing to do.
"Obviously I want to be out there playing. But I think I understand the siutation we're in right now."
Skinner was first cleared for contact Tuesday. He put in his first contact practice Wednesday in Raleigh, after which Canes coach Kirk Muller said there was a chance he could play tonight against the Lightning.
Muller said today the decision was to give Skinner a few more practices, then perhaps play him this weekend -- either against the Boston Bruins on Saturday at the RBC Center, or Sunday in Washington against the Caps.
"I think we'll give him a couple more days to work with the team, a couple more practices," Muller said. "We want to be real careful with him. If there's any question mark, we said we wouldn't use him, so we'll wait and get him ready and hopefully by the weekend.
"He looked good yesterday, but I'd rather wait 'til he's 100 percent. He's pretty much there now."
Skinner noted the workouts have been strenuous -- he stayed on the ice today for extra skating -- and have had an effect on him as he attempts to get his conditioning closer to game-ready.
"I don't feel 100 percent," he said. "I'm trying to get my legs back and sometimes maybe that can be sort of the reason you're out of wind really quick and you're not feeling well after. After anyone goes through a tough skate, a tough workout, you don't feel good the rest of the day.
"But I felt pretty good today. I think I felt better than I expected to feel, so that's a positive. I think I feel better every time I go on the ice, but it's just a minimal sort of improvement and that's where it sort of gets frustrating. But I do feel better each time and push myself a little harder and respond a little better every time."
Skinner was injured Dec. 7 against the Edmonton Oilers when he absorbed an open-ice hit from the Oilers' Andy Sutton. He said today he is not sure if he was hit in the head and believes he suffered more from a whiplash reaction to the collision.
"I've gone back and looked at the tape, as much as I wanted to, and I think that was the cause," he said. "You can't tell for sure. It happened so fast. But I'm pretty sure that's what happened."
At today's skate, Eric Staal centered a line with Jiri Tlusty and Tuomo Ruutu; Jussi Jokinen was at center with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jerome Samson; Brandon Sutter centered Pat Dwyer and Andreas Nodl; and Tim Brent was at center with Anthony Stewart and Brett Sutter.
The defensive pairings were Tim Gleason-Bryan Allen, Jay Harrison-Justin Faulk, and Jaroslav Spacek-Jamie McBain. Spacek, hit in the face by a puck during the game with the Flyers, will wear a full cage.
"He looks like a guy from the World Juniors," Muller joked. "But he's a tough cookie. He takes a pounding but he said he's good to go."
Derek Joslin, recalled today from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL), will be available for the game but was not at the morning skate. Muller said he was considering dressing seven defensemen for tonight's game.
The Lightning are 0-3-1 in the last four and have been outscored 19-9. Tampa Bay's last win: Dec. 31, when the Bolts took a 5-2 decision over the Canes as Steven Stamkos scored a hat trick.
"The last game in here we gave them too much space," Muller said. "We've got to play harder against them and we've got to spend more time in their end."