It has been a long time coming.
The last time the Carolina Hurricanes played a home game at PNC Arena, it was 70 degrees in early April 2011. Nine months later, when the wind chill has plunged the temperature into the 20’s, the Canes are back on home ice.
It has been a long time coming – for the new faces as well as the old.
“I’m very excited, and hopefully the fans are too,” Jordan Staal said. “I’m sure the crowd will be nice and loud. I’m just anxious to get going.”
“Our crowd and atmosphere is pretty awesome to play in front of. It’s been a long time waiting for this game,” Eric Staal said. “Guys are excited. The energy in this building will be through the roof.”
“Enjoy the moment tonight,” said head coach Kirk Muller about his message to the team. “The fans have been waiting for this game for awhile. We’re excited to play here.”
When the team takes the ice tonight, they will have a bit of a different look than they did in Florida on Saturday. With Zac Dalpe out with an illness (he skated at length today, but will not dress), Muller juggled the lines, in part out of necessity and in part out of experimentation.
Drayson Bowman will play on the first line with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, replacing Zach Boychuk who will be a healthy scratch.
“I think Bo is capable of skating with those guys,” Muller said. “It’s a look we wanted to see before camp started.”
The wing pair of Chad LaRose and Jiri Tlusty slid up to surround Jordan Staal, as Jeff Skinner and Patrick Dwyer now flank Jussi Jokinen.
Rounding out the forward corps is the trio of Jeremy Welsh, Tim Brent and Kevin Westgarth. This will be Welsh’s first NHL game since joining the Canes in Florida for their season finale last April, and it will be Westgarth’s Canes’ debut and his first NHL action since Feb. 16, 2012. Both Welsh, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, and Westgarth, 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, punctuate the lineup with size and grit.
“The fourth line is a good-sized line with some good-sized bodies,” Muller said.
On defense, Jamie McBain will be the healthy extra for the second game in a row. The pairings were also moved around and can be seen here.
As was the case last week, these are combinations the coaching staff likes on paper. But, without the luxury of preseason games to see how they translate on-ice, the team is adjusting on the fly. It has made for an unpredictable first week of games, as teams attempt to balance wins with the ephemeral search for chemistry.
“A lot of that ugliness as far as pucks bouncing and passes not being as sharp kind of gets out your system when you play those preseason games,” Eric Staal said. “The quicker you adjust and get better, the better off you are. We have addressed last game, tweaked some areas and look forward to playing a better game tonight.”
“Hockey can be unpredictable for the most part, but there are definitely teams that still need to find their identity and get the timing back in their game,” Jordan Staal said. “Our goal is to be a hard-working team, use our speed and work in the other team’s end.”
The Canes catch the Tampa Bay Lightning on the second half of their first back-to-back set of the season. After topping Washington 6-3 on Saturday, the Lightning dropped a 4-3 decision against the New York Islanders Monday afternoon.
The Hurricanes are expecting a capacity crowd for tonight’s divisional tilt, the first of five meetings between these two teams.
It has been a long time coming, and now it is finally here.
“We felt we tweaked the things we needed to from game one, and there are a lot of good things we thought we did do,” Muller said. “I think we have a good team, but you have to earn it, and you have to go out and work for it.”