If tired legs were to blame for the slow start in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Florida, the bad news is that training camp won’t get any easier.
Starting Thursday, the Hurricanes play three exhibition games in three nights in three cities. While no player is likely to suit up for all of them, there will certainly be back-to-back games for some and the possibility of playing three times in four days for a lucky few.
Asked how the coaching staff would manage the team’s energy level heading into that stretch, coach Paul Maurice had a simple answer.
“We’re not,” he said. “It is difficult by design. They’re not going to feel great and they’re legs are going to be sore. We want to get that good feeling and win, but we also feel we need to have a certain competitive level in training camp. Our plan is to come off the hammer a little bit when we hit Europe and not too much earlier.”
For some, the initial shock of a hard camp will gradually subside, as players settle into more of a groove. If they can sustain the hour-and-a-half practices at this time of year, the regular-season editions should be a piece of cake by comparison.
“It just comes with continuing to do it everyday and eventually you get over that hump,” said Eric Staal. “It’s not just a physical toll at this time of year, but mentally and emotionally as well.”
For some, that hump may never arrive. As much as on-ice performance, that could be a determining factor in who goes to Europe and who goes to Charlotte to start the year.
“That’s the separation of camp,” said Maurice.
Most of the younger players, who by and large have a more difficult transition to make in their first NHL camp, will all least get the night off on Thursday as the Hurricanes bring a veteran-laden group to Nashville (full lineup below). Among skaters making the trip, only Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Patrick O'Sullivan, all of whom played against Florida, are considered outside of the established veteran group.
Included in the game group is Sergei Samsonov, who skated in a non-contact jersey on Wednesday. Maurice said that Justin Peters will get the start in goal, with Justin Pogge taking over midway through for the second consecutive game.
It’s just about getting that timing, pace and physicality of it that you don’t get in practice,” said Staal, who headlines the group going to Nashville. “They’re not always the most fun, but they’re worth it in the end.”
While the first big wave of cuts is not expected until Sunday, Maurice said that the Hurricanes have returned defensemen Austin Levi and Rasmus Rissanen to their junior clubs. Levi’s Plymouth Whalers begin their season on Thursday, while Rissanen’s Everett Silvertips start on Friday.
“It was a really good experience for them, for defensemen especially, just to come up, practice for five days and get a feel for the size and the speed,” said Maurice. “I’m happy with both of them, but it’s important for those guys to get back and be part of a whole season for their team.”