After over two weeks of training camp, including six exhibition games, just five days stand between the Carolina Hurricanes and their season opener against a new Eastern Conference foe in Detroit on Friday night at PNC Arena.
Though injuries to a number of the team’s top players somewhat derailed certain plans the coaching staff had for the team, head coach Kirk Muller said his squad is right on target.
“We’re anxious to work this week and move forward,” he said after an hour-long session on Sunday afternoon.
The Canes’ roster now stands at 24 players (including unsigned forward Radek Dvorak), and a few final cuts could still be on the horizon. But those final roster decisions will wait. The Hurricanes have until 5 p.m. Monday to trim their group down, and they might use every bit of that allotted time.
“The numbers are down, and we’ll just wait for a couple of players to see where they’re at,” Muller said. “We like the group that’s here … the whole mix of them.”
Carolina worked into the early morning hours of Sunday to pare their group down by a couple of players, sending forwards Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh to Vancouver in exchange for forward Kellan Tochkin and a fourth-round draft pick in 2014. The team then assigned forward Chris Terry to Charlotte, pending waivers. Finally, forward Tuomo Ruutu was placed on injured reserve, retroactive to Sept. 21. Since a minimum stay on IR is seven days, Ruutu is eligible to be activated at any time.
In addition to Ruutu, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm and Tim Gleason all continue to be sidelined. Muller said Skinner could return to practice as early as Monday.
“It’s a long year, and we’ve got to be smart about it. But generally, guys want to be there and play,” Muller said. “They’ve got to get into practices first, and we’ll evaluate where they’re at conditioning-wise and playing-wise, and make some decisions then.”
With the group he has, Muller is using this final week before the regular season to fine-tune areas of the game, some as simple as the sport’s very basics. Sunday’s practice honed in on passing, puck placement and four-on-four work.
“Practices will be shorter, and they’ll have a quicker tempo,” Muller said of what to watch for in the coming days.
One element Muller said he hasn’t been able to touch on as much as he would have liked is the power play – and that’s simply because he didn’t have the bodies to do so.
“We haven’t had a chance to put the power play units together because of the injuries,” he said. “You can kind of work on it, but if you don’t have the personnel you want to use on it, it’s kind of hard to practice it.”
One main message of camp that’s certainly been heeded: being a better defensive team. In the Canes’ final three preseason games – all wins – the team allowed just two goals against and limited the opposition’s five-on-five scoring chances.
“The thing we talked about is that we have to defend better and play better defensively. I know it’s just exhibition, but in three games, we gave up a goal, a goal and a shutout,” Muller said. “That’s a compliment to the guys who are making that commitment to defense.”
Four team practices and a gameday skate separate the Hurricanes from their home opener versus Detroit, and it’s almost hard to believe we’re already here again.
“The last few games, we looked like we were in sync,” Muller said. “We’re right on target.”