It was all smiles on the RBC Center ice on Sunday, jet leg and all.
And why not? After two wins over the Minnesota Wild at the NHL Premiere in Finland, they began the skate as one of just four 2-0 teams around the league. It was a trip that not only saw them take the maximum amount of points, but one that seems to have taken advantage of all the anticipated team-building aspects.
“They seem to be getting along pretty darn well,” said coach Paul Maurice.
They’ll need that chemistry again. While they’ve passed the European test with flying colors, their biggest challenge may be yet to come. On Wednesday, the Canes leave for a five-game road trip that won’t take them as far as Russia but will actually be even longer in terms of amount of days away from home.
As successful as the overseas trip has been, it may not be until a few more weeks that they know how they'll look back on the entire experience.
“Everybody says that it’s the week or two after you get back (that’s the hardest),” said Maurice, adding that he wasn’t sure if that meant from now or from after the travel finally ends ahead of the home opener on Oct. 27.
Much like their first practice in St. Petersburg exactly one week earlier, this Sunday’s practice on home ice was designed to simply get the legs moving again. The coaches didn’t ask much of the players from the short session, but will again due so when they resume practice on Tuesday.
The makeup of the group was slightly different due to Saturday’s AHL assignments of Brett Carson, Justin Pogge and Bobby Sanguinetti. One of the defensemen could be back for the road trip, as the Canes won’t want to be caught without reinforcements should one of their established NHL players be injured during a west-coast morning skate.
Sunday’s session also saw the return of Sergei Samsonov, who joined the group in a non-contact jersey, marking his first appearance since suffering a neck strain during the Sept. 25 exhibition game in Atlanta. According to Maurice, Samsonov could play in the road-trip opener in Ottawa in Thursday, which could prompt another tough lineup call.
“We’d have to make a decision on who would come out for him, and after two wins and some pretty good play by all our players, we’d have to take a look at that pretty close before we put him back in,” said Maurice.
There’s also the question of when Cam Ward should get a rest, not that he looked like he needed it in the second Helsinki game on Friday. The goaltender, who made 42 saves and was perfect on three shootout attempts during that win, often plays his best under his heaviest workload.
“I don’t know why that is,” said Ward. “I might have been a little bit overhyped in the first game (on Thursday), but from the drop of the puck (on Friday) I felt really calm and really relaxed and it showed out there.”
Although Maurice said he was inclined to rest Ward and hand at least one start to Justin Peters during the upcoming five-game swing, it wouldn’t necessarily be during the back-to-back set in San Jose and Los Angeles that begins on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
“It may not be those games that we pick for him,” said Maurice. “We may look at his schedule and say, ‘Here’s a day where he could take four mental days off in terms of not having to play a game, and maybe that makes more sense.’”
Sitting the Vancouver game one week from today would accomplish just that.
The Hurricanes are off the ice Monday, which is the make-up day for the rained-out Kids ‘N Community Golf Tournament.