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Ready or not, here we go.
On the fourth on-ice day of training camp, the Carolina Hurricanes will open their seven-game preseason schedule in Buffalo.
Tonight's game is the first of a three-games-in-three-nights stretch, which will pivot to Tampa Bay on Tuesday before heading back to Raleigh for another match-up with the Lightning on Wednesday.
"We've been looking forward to this all summer. We've been antsy to get back at it, and it feels good to jump right into the first game," said Derek Ryan, who will center Jeff Skinner and Phil Di Giuseppe on the team's top line tonight. "Practice is one thing, but a game is a whole other thing. We're excited to get in some games, get the competitive juices and get ready for the season."
Martin Necas, selected 12th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, will make his preseason debut tonight, centering Josh Jooris and Aleksi Saarela. Necas is coming off an impressive week at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
"The plan was to put him in this game all along. We've added him in another one down the road. He's going to get a good look here. He's been good," head coach Bill Peters said. "He's got a chance to make the team for sure."
On the back-end, Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce comprise the team's veteran pair - veteran in the sense of NHL experience, as Pesce is 22 years old and Noah is 20 - while Haydn Fleury and Trevor van Riemsdyk is a glimpse of a possible third pair for the regular season.
Jeremy Smith, a veteran depth goaltender signed by the team on July 1, will get the start in net tonight. Alex Nedeljkovic will also see game action.
"We're going to split them. It's either going to be 30-30 or 40-20," Peters said, adding that the staff is leaning towards giving Smith the first two periods. "We've got to get into the game, see what we're doing and see how it's going, the quality and quantity of the shots."
In its early stages, the NHL preseason has been penalty-filled. Peters said he wouldn't be surprised to see the same tonight.
"I'm expecting that because it's happened in every game," he said. "It's just the way it is this time of year, every year."
Having put in a solid 45-minute special teams-focused skate on Sunday, live game situations of such will provide a good measuring stick.
"We want to evaluate guys 5-on-5, to be honest with you," Peters said. "But, they get an opportunity to show us if they can pick it up quickly, grasp the concepts and then go execute."
The puck drops at KeyBank Center in Buffalo at 7 p.m. tonight. You can listen to the game via live streaming audio on WRALSportsFan.com, and we'll have your rinkside in-game updates on @CanesTracking.
"Wins and losses probably aren't too important in the preseason. It's a little more important to get the morale going," Ryan said. "We're looking to come together as a team, get our systems going and make sure we're playing the way management and Bill wants us to be playing."
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