As the Hurricanes look to reverse their recent struggles, some help may be on the way.
Injured players Erik Cole and Tim Gleason
took full part in Thursday’s practice, which was no small feat given the length of the session and the amount of skating and contact involved. Afterward, Coach Paul Maurice said that Gleason could return as early as next Wednesday’s road game in Florida, while Cole has a chance to suit up in one or both of the team’s back-to-back contests on Saturday and Sunday.
“For us, tomorrow is the big day,” said Maurice of Cole, specifically. “Today was a battle day for everybody, and if he can get through it and comes in without the swelling, then we’ll look at this weekend.”
Saturday’s game at Philadelphia would be exactly four weeks from when Cole broke a bone in his leg, which marks the early end of his initial 4-6 week prognosis. The Canes could clearly benefit from his presence, which they’ve missed even more than anticipated. While the status of Cole and Gleason, isn’t certain, Tuomo Ruutu will return to the lineup for Sunday’s home game against San Jose after completing his three-game suspension, barring unexpected circumstances.
Getting at least one of those players back may help the team’s confidence, which has taken a hit during the seven-game winless streak.
“I think what we’re dealing with here is group confidence,” said Maurice. “We’re playing to make every touch of the puck turn into a goal for, and when it doesn’t you lose that confidence that you talk about. We’ve come out and played well in games, and then the other team scores a goal and you’ve lost that confidence.”
The two goals that St. Louis scored just 16 seconds apart in the first period of Wednesday’s game serve as an example. Already, that marked the sixth game this season in which the Canes have allowed two goals less than a minute apart, indicating a significant drop in intensity after the initial tally. The Blues had opened the scoring eight minutes prior to that flurry, lowering the Canes’ record to 0-3-2 when the opponent strikes first.
“Last year I think we were (among the) best in the league in win percentage when the other team scored the first goal,” said Maurice. “That’s confidence. That team could give up a goal and not change, and still play the same game and grind it and come back.”
So, how to fix it? Maurice faced a similar conundrum upon returning to the team in December of last season, and was able to find success by getting the team to play the same game regardless of the situation, essentially staying calm after the first hint of in-game adversity.
“Your confidence comes from your work ethic and your consistency,” he said. ‘(It’s) when your team gets to the point where the final score is not the most important thing and the process becomes a far more important thing. It’s how you play the game every single night and the scores take care of themselves – that’s confidence.”
The game at Philadelphia should pose an interesting test. Although the Flyers got off to a strong start that included the season-opening shutout in Raleigh, they have struggled since and were skated hard on a scheduled off day Wednesday.
Still, at this point, the opponent shouldn’t matter a great deal. For the Canes, it’s about returning to their own game.
“What I’d like to see in Philly is just a filthy grind, just a real smart, hard-played and battled game” said Maurice. “Let the goals take care of themselves.”