SUN Hockey Pool

Pitkanen expected to play

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

Joni Pitkanen's ironman streak is expected to reach five games tonight.

Pitkanen didn't practise yesterday but is expected to be ready tonight against Los Angeles after taking a puck off the ankle Tuesday against Detroit.

"He's feeling like he can play," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "We're hopeful that he can."

Pitkanen's had trouble putting any stretch of games together in the new year. He missed the Dec 31 game with a bruised back, played four in a row, sat out Jan. 10 with the flu, played three in a row, sat out Jan. 18 and 20 with a groin strain, played nine in a row, sat out Feb. 16 with a hip flexor strain, played four in a row and had to be helped off the ice after being hit by the puck against the Wings.

The juxtapositioning of the latest scare is unfortunate for Pitkanen, since it comes a few days after Ethan Moreau finished his shift after breaking his leg.

But MacTavish warns against rushing to any sort of judgment on Pitkanen's pain tolerance or willingness to play hurt.

"He's a guy who will play, but there's certainly a thoroughbred aspect there," said the coach. "He wants to be reasonably close to 100% to play his game, but I don't think this is one of those issues. I think it was a really substantial blow. Until you've had one there (right on the ankle bone), you can't appreciate how painful it is."

The shot that broke Moreau's leg the first time was a harmless dump-in that caught him on the wrong spot.

"It's where it hits you," said MacTavish. "Ninety-nine times out of 100 it hits you in a spot where it's a little sore, but it's not going to keep you out. But sometimes it hits you in a bad spot and you can't recover."

If Pitkanen can go, MacTavish has every confidence he'll always be there for the team.

"I basically feel that way about him, that he will play if he can."

GILBERT REBOUNDS

Defenceman Tom Gilbert's plus-minus rating has taken a terrible pounding in the last few weeks (minus-13 between Jan. 15 and Feb. 24) but he bounced back with three points and a plus two against the Wings.

"I was making simple passes and guys were making plays," said Gilbert, who scored a nice goal from the short side to give Edmonton a 1-0 lead. "It was one of those nights when points were coming to you."

MacTavish had a feeling Gilbert was in for a big night when the first one went in.

"When he gets a goal ... his game goes to another level," said MacTavish. "It seems like it does wonders for his confidence on the offensive part of the game."

As Gilbert adjusts to the NHL and its schedule, MacTavish expects to see a lot more nights at the high end of the offensive scale.

"There's every reason to believe he's going to continue to get better and put those numbers up."


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