With training camp and the preseason in the rearview mirror, all attention turns to the 2014-15 regular season, and the Carolina Hurricanes are raring to go.
The Canes will face off with the New York Islanders on Friday at PNC Arena in the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home set to begin the season.
“We’ll start the rhythm of playing in games,” head coach Bill Peters said after the team’s final practice prior to the start of the season. “I’ve liked our week in preparation.”
“Enough of the preseason practices and games, not that I’m against them,” Justin Faulk said with a smile. “But everyone looks forward to the regular season starting.”
“You want to get off to a good start,” Cam Ward said. “The guys have worked extremely hard in training camp to be prepared, and we just want to carry it over.”
The preseason seemed to be a house of horrors for the Hurricanes, who lost forwards Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner to injuries. Skinner, a two-time 30-goal scorer, remains out for an undetermined amount of time with a concussion, while Staal, an important piece down the middle who plays in all situations, is shelved for 3-4 months with a fractured right fibula.
But hope springs eternal inside the locker room, where the Canes realize the challenge in front of them.
“The way Bill wants us to play, if we can get to that right away systems-wise and be comfortable with what we’re doing on the ice, it’s going to help us,” Eric Staal said. “Special teams are going to be big. We’ve noticed that.”
“We’ve just got to go out and work. We know the system. We’re all pretty familiar with it,” Faulk said. “If we go out and work hard … we’ll be able to get wins and get off on the right foot to start the year.”
With two-thirds of what was penciled in to be the team’s second line now out of the lineup, offense might come at a premium. The coaching staff is looking toward rookie Victor Rask, who turned heads with his performance at the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., and much of the preseason, to anchor the re-constructed trio that also features Elias Lindholm and Nathan Gerbe.
“They’re going to have to generate offense and show up on the scoresheet,” Peters said. “It’s a group of young kids that is a second-unit power play, also. So they’re going to have to be dangerous there. We’re going to need offense from them, and we’re going to need our D to help out too.”
Though injuries have dented the Canes’ depth up front, the team will ice a reliable group on the back-end and in net.
“I think defensively and in net we’re very strong. We’ve got proven guys who have played. We’re eight NHL D-men deep,” Peters said. “We just have to find a way to generate offense consistently and finish. If we have to win some low-scoring, tight games early, so be it.”
Cam Ward has been named the team’s Opening Night starter, but the goaltending situation remains fluid, especially considering that the Canes play the very next night; the coaching staff could opt to turn to Anton Khudobin on Saturday early in the season in a back-to-back scenario.
“We like both of our goaltenders, and we’re going to need both of our goaltenders, but we’ve got to name a starter for game one, and it’s going to be Cam Ward,” Peters said. “We’ll go from there.”
“When I got word that I was going to be coming back to Carolina, I was real excited about the opportunity. I wanted to have a solid training camp with a fresh mindset, and fortunately things have gone well,” Ward said. “One of the things that I’ve learned is to be in the moment. That’s what I’m trying to do. My focus is on Friday and nothing else. I’m going to have some fun with that.”
With the onset of the regular season comes the deluge of predictions and prognostications. The so-called experts have weighed in: eighth place this, last place that. It’s all extraneous noise in the grand scheme of an 82-game season that’s ultimately decided on the ice.
“We can’t worry about anything like that,” Staal said. “We’ve got to worry about what we have to do here. With the type of people we have, we’ll do that.”
“Just look around the room with the group of guys we have. We have good goaltending, good D and strong forwards up front that can get the job done. A lot of skill and a lot of playmakers up there that you need to win games,” Faulk said. “It’s up to us whether we can put it together consistently for 60 minutes a night and 82 games.”
The Canes’ 2014-15 regular season gets underway on Friday, just after 7 p.m., in front of what should be a raucous crowd.
Yes, indeed, it’s finally time to drop the puck.
“It starts tomorrow,” Peters said. “You want to get off to a good start at home and build momentum.”
“The excitement is there,” Staal said. “For us to be able to get going tomorrow night at home, we’re all pumped up for that. It’ll be fun.”