TORONTO - "Anybody have the time? Is there a clock? I'm early."
You can forgive Rod Brind'Amour for being a little antsy. Wednesday afternoon's exhibition game was, after all, the Carolina Hurricanes' first hockey game in more than four months, and everyone, including the head coach, had been ready to drop the puck for weeks.
Brind'Amour paused, paced around and then walked to the front of the Canes' makeshift locker room, which typically houses the NBA's Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena.
"Let's just go after it," Brind'Amour addressed his squad. "Do what you go to do."
He handed the lineup card to Morgan Geekie, who made a splash with three goals in his first two NHL games in March.
"Sing it!" Geekie was encouraged, but he opted to read it straight, one by one calling out the starters, with whoops and hollers and claps following each name.
"Raz in the pipes," Geekie rounded it out, with a big "Woo!" from the room to punctuate the energy.
"Hell of a read!" someone shouted. "Great read, smooth," another agreed.
Back in the coaches' office, again a makeshift set-up in what typically serves as an event level luxury suite, Brind'Amour snagged his game card and unwrapped a piece of blue peppermint Extra gum.
It was go time.
As soon as the puck drops on any given game night, video coach Chris Huffine gets right to work, clacking on his keys and archiving game clips for the coaches to digest during intermissions, the next day at practice and down the line when they're reviewing certain opponents.
Video coach Trace Linton keeps an eye on what's happening in real time, reviewing each zone entry and every goal for potential coach's challenges.
In the luxury suite turned coaches' war room for the NHL's 24-team postseason tournament, Huffine and Linton found themselves in close quarters, wearing masks while sitting side by side.
Just about nine minutes into the first period, Jake Gardiner's point shot clinked off the post, and the puck sat uncovered behind Washington's Braden Holtby. Vincent Trocheck located the puck and poked it in the net, though referee Francois Charron blew his whistle and signaled "no goal" as the net became dislodged.
But, wait a second. Did Dowd intentionally dislodge the net? If so, a goal should be awarded to Trocheck.
Huffine and Linton took another look, rewinding the game feed from multiple angles, which the coaches also see via their on-bench screens.
Video: CAR@WSH: Trocheck sweeps home loose puck in crease
Goaltending coach Jason Muzzatti radioed down from his perch in a 200-level suite. He thought it should be a goal.
"I don't know what the problem is, JD," Huffine radioed out to assistant coach Jeff Daniels. "I think that's a goal."
Soon after, a goal was indeed awarded to Trocheck after league's situation room ruled that Dowd did indeed "cause the net to be displaced from its moorings prior to the puck crossing the goal line."
"Good job, good job," Huffine said to Daniels before looking back at the fly on the wall in his office. "It's a team effort on everything."
The Canes trailed the Capitals 2-1 after 20 minutes of exhibition play. Brind'Amour walked into the coaches' room and sighed.
"Well, that wasn't very good, boys," he said.
"To start, we were OK," assistant coach Dean Chynoweth said. "We had some energy, and we were good."
"We just made the game harder than it needed to be for us," Huffine offered.
It was part sloppy and part rusty, but that was somewhat to be expected given the circumstance: a game with a meaningless result following four unexpected months off.
"I didn't think we were going to get that call," Muzzatti laughed.
After reviewing a handful of clips and chatting with his coaching staff, Brind'Amour walked into the Canes' dressing room to address the period with his team.
"Things will start to click, but we have to keep it simple first," he said.
A pit stop back in the coaches' room before the start of the second period offered Brind'Amour a chance to grab a fresh piece of blue peppermint Extra gum.
Daniels radioed in from the bench: "Check that one," he said, referring to a Capitals' zone entry in the second period.
Linton wound the feed back and paused it. Another angle. "That would be almost impossible [to overturn]," he said. And no matter - a review wasn't necessary, but the Canes' coaches want to know if they should even consider challenging before knowing if they will even have to make that decision.
Another bench transmission from Daniels, this time asking Linton to show a replay of a hooking penalty on Teuvo Teravainen.
After two periods, the Canes were facing a two-goal deficit.
"We're not getting any offense because we're trying to be cute," Brind'Amour said in the coaches' room, something he'd later reiterate to the media in his postgame virtual press conference. "We've got to get to the net. We're all on the outside. This is not our game, that's for sure."
Video: "I expected it to be rusty."
Back to the Canes' dressing room for another intermission chat.
"We've got to figure out how we've got to play. We'll get to it," Brind'Amour told his team. "Get it to the net. We've got to establish that. That's what we do."
Sure enough, the Canes seemed to rediscover their identity in the third period. Teravainen's 5-on-3 goal made it a 3-2 game, and while that's where the final score landed, the last 20 minutes were better than the first 40, something to perhaps springboard the team into the real thing.
"We've got to be better than that," Brind'Amour said in the coaches' office after the game. "We're going to have some good clips for tomorrow."
The game clips Huffine was constantly clipping and tagging during the game will be utilized as valuable teaching tools during Thursday's team meeting at the Fairmont Royal York hotel.
With a game roster to pare down in the coming days, the coaching staff went back and forth with brief thoughts on which players stood out to them and who maybe didn't have the best game.
"We've got a lot of decisions to make," Brind'Amour said.
He then made his way into the Canes' locker room for one final talk with his team, something he does after every game, losses included. By the illuminated Raptors' logo on a brick wall that divides the entryway from the room, Brind'Amour paused to gather his parting thoughts.
The Canes grasped how to improve their game in third period, he told his team, and that was an encouraging sign. What happened in the first two periods might have been a little sloppy and a little rusty, but it was nothing a little video review couldn't fix.
"Then, we know where we're going," he said. "Everything we've put into - it's been a long time. It's been a long time. Preseason, 68 games, four months of doing nothing - it's all now kicking in. We go starting tomorrow."