Back-to-back games are nothing new to the Hurricanes this season. With a little rest, they’re hoping this weekend’s set will be less taxing.
This weekend’s pair of road contests in Dallas and St. Louis will already mark the eighth time that the Hurricanes have played on consecutive nights this season. That’s on the way to a season total of 21 – a Hurricanes record (since relocation) that accounts for over half the team’s schedule. It's also part of a strange run in which the Canes play nothing but back-to-back games for eight straight contests.
While acknowledging that such sets are always tough, the Hurricanes are hopeful that the five-day layoff that preceded this particular set will work to their advantage.
“We wanted to cover a few things, but we also wanted to give ourselves a chance to have enough in the tank for both games,” said coach Paul Maurice of this week’s practices in Raleigh. “At times we just haven’t had it in the second half, but we’re as rested as we can be.”
“It can be really tough when it’s part of playing three games in four nights or something like that, but I will probably feel much better this Saturday because of the days off,” said Jussi Jokinen.
So far, the team's record during these stretches more or less mirrors their season as a whole at 6-5-3 overall. As one might expect, they're also a little better on the front halves (4-2-1) than they are on the back (2-4-1).
The Hurricanes downplayed the effects of having to travel for both games, as there will almost always be some jet-setting involved. The Canes stay home for just one set of back-to-back games against Philadelphia and New Jersey in mid-February.
Where things can get tricky is when the opponent on the second night is idle during the first, which will be the case against St. Louis this time around. The Blues host Columbus on Thursday, but will be able to take in the Canes’ match-up in Dallas from the comfort of their own homes.
A similar situation didn’t work out too well for Carolina when it last played Dallas on Nov. 29, a 4-1 loss, but it’s generally accepted as part of the equation.
“You just never know,” said Maurice. “They’re all tough. There are coaches in every city and teams preparing to win, and with where we are in the standings both of those teams at home are expecting to win those games, and we’re coming on the road expecting to win our two.”
From the players’ perspective, Jokinen suggested that much of being able to cope with back-to-back games comes down to individual preparation on the second day. He personally enjoys having a big breakfast and taking a 20-30 minute walk outdoors, but said that others vary greatly in their own preferences.
He also said that, in a situation like this, conventional wisdom may not apply.
“It’s weird,” said Jokinen, who broke into the league with Dallas in 2005. “Sometimes if you play a really hard game in the first part, you’ll open up and actually feel better in the second half.”
The Canes do expect to be in for a hard challenge on Friday, with the Stars poised to bring a physical challenge from the get-go. It figures to be a good test for the visitors, who have been stressing stronger starts all week, and with good reason. They’ve earned at least one point in the standings (9-0-2) every time they’ve scored the game’s first goal this season. When they don't, they're 2-12-1.
“You always have to keep it simple on the road, and getting that first goal is huge because it helps you do that,” said Jokinen.
After a sparse crowd at the week’s opening practice on Monday when just 10 players took the ice, the Canes had the full 20 going Thursday. All have made the trip to Dallas and are expected to be available Friday.