Only one day left until the Hurricanes open the 2008-09 season at home tomorrow night against the Florida Panthers. Being around the locker room and practice, you can really tell that the players are looking forward to it as much as the fans.
After weeks of tough practices in training camp, this morning’s session had more of a pregame skate feel to it, if that makes any sense. It seemed to be less about systems work and teaching and more about just getting a skate in before the big game – a relatively loose atmosphere.
Speaking of pregame skates, there won’t be one tomorrow morning, and there should be less of them this season than in the past. A lot of teams don’t do them at all or make them optional since their only purpose it to get a little warm-up in before that night’s game. I’m guessing a couple of guys might still want to head out there and skate some circles even on off days, especially if they’re testing injuries, but don’t expect to see them very often. Not that they’re ever very strenuous, but it’s one less way to get hurt, right?
Coach Peter Laviolette said that he’s comfortable with the lines he’s been using in practice recently
, so I expect him to start off with those tomorrow night. For me, Tuomo Ruutu
has been a standout in practice since returning from his groin injury, so there’s no reason to think he won’t play tomorrow night. Rod Brind’Amour has been saying that he’s not feeling as good as he wants to yet, so depending how things go he might see his minutes limited much like they were in Sunday’s exhibition finale.
As it stands right now, the third line of Matt Cullen, Ryan Bayda and Chad LaRose is an interesting one. Cullen is a mainstay in that position, but Bayda and LaRose would probably be a line lower if Scott Walker and Justin Williams were healthy.
That’s not to say the team isn’t comfortable using them in those slots, however. Those two names have come up throughout camp, whether it’s from Laviolette or GM Jim Rutherford, as players who have had a strong showing in the preseason. If they’re able to carry that into tomorrow night and beyond, that will be a huge boost for the team.
Finally, tomorrow night’s game will be the NHL debut of one Brandon Sutter
. He got to play in all six exhibition games, which he says has calmed the nerves quite a bit. In addition to even strength duty, he’ll most likely see some time on the penalty kill, especially if Brind’Amour is limited.
Even though there’s no skate tomorrow there’s still media availability in the morning, so check for updates before the big game.