With just a week left until opening night and the roster trimmed down to 24 players, this weekend’s preseason games will be final tune-ups before October 7.
Whereas the initial weeks of training camp focused on conditioning and individual assessment, this last week of camp ahead will draw much more attention to delving deep into the Hurricanes’ system and finding the right line combinations.
Throughout training camp, the lines have been rather fluid, as players have moved up and down and in and out of the lineup. Over the next week, head coach Paul Maurice should be assembling a final four trios and a set of duos that fans will see on opening night.
One line that provided an offensive spark last season has been reunited for tonight and perhaps the weeks ahead – the second scoring line of Jussi Jokinen
, Tuomo Ruutu
and Jeff Skinner
“There’s a little bit of a different element in each player,” Maurice said. “Mostly what I like is that I think they enjoy playing with each other, and you can see it. When you have a line that talks to each other on the bench, they get better. They start creating plays that are somewhat off the grid of what you’re doing as an offense. That’s chemistry, and they seem to have it.”
Jokinen is the latest addition to the duo of Ruutu and Skinner, who have been matched with Anthony Stewart
on the opposite wing for the majority of camp. Maurice said yesterday that moving Stewart down to accompany the Jokinen addition wasn’t indicative of Stewart’s play; rather, Maurice wants to see that offensive spark that he knows Jokinen can bring to the line.
“All of us three enjoyed the last couple of months,” Jokinen said. “We were able to score a lot of big goals and help our team, but it wasn’t enough. I think we feel confident playing with each other.”
Ruutu, Skinner and Jokinen all were among the top five in scoring for the Canes last season; between the three, they totaled 172 points.
“I feel really comfortable playing with them. In the games we played last year, we were doing good,” Ruutu said. “ Skinner can make good chances out of nothing. Jussi is a great passer, and he can also score. He’s got a great hockey sense.”
“Jussi is such a smart defensive player,” Maurice said. “Ruutu is a bull. And Skinner is a finisher, kind of a creator in tight areas.”
While this line will see plenty of ice time tonight, it might get juggled around tomorrow night. Maurice indicated yesterday that he isn’t entirely comfortable with playing Ruutu in back-to-back games, which would open up a slot for Riley Nash
to re-enter the lineup. This move could see Skinner shift back to center and Stewart on the wing for a night.
Regardless, no one plans on changing the way they play their game.
“Chemistry might be a little different because you have different type of players,” Ruutu said. “But at the same time, one guy can get the puck by hitting; the other guy is good with the stick. It doesn’t matter, as long as you do your work.”
Based on who is in the lineup tonight and what we’ve seen in the last few days of camp, here’s a look at the projected lines:
Ponikarovsky – Staal – Dalpe
Skinner – Ruutu – Jokinen
Tlusty – Sutter – LaRose
Dwyer – Brent – Stewart
Pitkanen – Gleason
Kaberle – Harrison
Allen – Faulk