Although it’s still the preseason, tonight’s home game against Atlanta marks an important turning point in the Hurricanes’ preparations for 2009-10.
By dressing the best players available tonight for the first time this exhibition season (starting lines here
), Coach Paul Maurice wants to see less rust and more of a mid-season intensity from his group.
“We don’t view this as an exhibition game. It’s a preparation game now,” said Maurice. “The first two were to see everybody and to get the guys moving their hands a little faster, and now we want to see the bodies moving.”
None of the six remaining roster hopefuls, including pack leader Brandon Sutter, are expected to play. How well the team performs tonight will determine the prospects’ chances for tomorrow. The Canes were originally planning to give some veterans a rest during the Nashville trip, but a poor showing tonight might force the veterans back to work.
Although wins and losses have yet to matter, tonight’s game is the one in which the team will want to see a competitive team and definite signs that they’re approaching the required level of readiness.
“We want to see far, far better puck support and better speed offensively,” said Maurice when asked what improvements were needed from the first two exhibitions, both losses. “But more importantly, our hockey club got better when we decided we wanted to compete hard without the puck.”
The only player who will be missing tonight from the Canes’ projected opening night lineup is Joni Pitkanen, who practiced with the team this morning for the first time this season, wearing a gold non-contact jersey. He is not expected to play tonight or make the trip to Nashville tomorrow. Maurice said that a decision on his status for opening night on October 2 would be determined based on his practices next week.
Atlanta, which still has 37 players in camp, won’t be bringing their full-strength roster to Raleigh for tonight’s game, as top scorer Ilya Kovalchuk and preseason standout Nik Antropov, among others, stay home. Veteran Manny Legace gets the start, with fellow camp tryout Maxim Afinogenov also scheduled to play.