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RALEIGH, N.C. (JAN 15, 2007) - There was a lot of news about Carolina's injured defenseman at Monday's practice. For the first time in recent memory, none of it was bad.

Both Glen Wesley and Tim Gleason practiced with the team on Monday, with Head Coach Peter Laviolette listing them as "possible" for Tuesday night's game in Florida. Frank Kaberle is still targeting the end of the month for his return, although Monday marked the first time all season that he wasn't wearing his blue "don't hit me" jersey at practice.

In all, nine defensemen skated at Monday's practice. Compare that to a few weeks ago, when the Hurricanes couldn't even find six healthy ones for a game.

Those nine defensemen didn't have to work too hard for the latter portion of that practice, which was devoted entirely to improving on shootouts. The Hurricanes lost in a shootout Saturday night against Atlanta, dropping a valuable point to the team they are chasing in the Southeast Division.

After losing such an important game in that fashion, it's no wonder the Carolina coaching staff doesn't want it to happen again.

"Like anything, you work on it," said Laviolette, whose team dropped to 0-3 on shootouts this season. "You don't know what needs work until things aren't working. When something grabs your attention, then you go back on the ice and you work on trying to execute and become better at it."

The prolonged breakaway drill wasn't just designed to allow the shooters to practice new moves. Goaltender Cam Ward says that shootouts present a unique situation unlike any found in an actual game.

"That's something that I've had a little bit of trouble with so far this year," said Ward. "Shootouts are different than a breakaway in a normal game just because the guy has so much time and it's kind of a different pace. It's just something you've got to work on."

For players and coaches who prepare for every facet of the game, losing in a shootout can be especially frustrating because it awards a point to the team that is better in only one of those facets - breakaways.

"Games like that could go either way," said Hurricanes center Eric Staal of the loss to Atlanta. "That's what it's about, and it's tough that way. It was a good game and I thought we played well, so it was tough to lose that way.'

The shootout originated last year in an attempt to eliminate ties and make the game more appealing to fans. However, the fans themselves might not like it as much as they used to.

According to two fan polls conducted on Carolinahurricanes.com, one on Oct. 17th, 2005 and another on Jan. 15th, 2007, fan support for the shootout has dropped considerably. Two weeks into the shootout's existence last season, 78 percent of fans said they liked them. Through 817 votes on the current poll, only 56 percent say they are in favor of it now.

Of course, the fact that last year's poll was conducted when the Hurricanes were 1-0 in shootouts and this year's was conducted when the team was 0-3 and fresh of the Atlanta loss certainly plays a factor.

Cam Ward summed up that phenomenon best.

"I tell you, after [Saturday] night's game I hate them, but I'd probably say something different if we won," he said. You win them, you love them. You lose them, you hate them."
 
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