As the Hurricanes attempt to break their current nine-game winless streak Wednesday night at Florida, they’ll have to do so without star center Eric Staal
Coach Paul Maurice said after Tuesday’s practice that Staal is considered “week-to-week” with an upper-body injury and would likely be sidelined at least through this weekend’s games against Toronto and Columbus as well. Thus marks the end of his highly-impressive 349 games-played streak, which was tied for the second-longest active streak in the NHL behind Jay Bouwmeester's 354 and ranked second in franchise history behind Dave Tippett's 419.
In Staal’s absence from practice, Jussi Jokinen was elevated to the first line with countryman Tuomo Ruutu on his left and the recently-returned Erik Cole on his right.
”Jokinen has always had the handset and the brain set to play a lot of time, but what happens is that maybe he doesn’t get to play with people that are best able to utilize some of his skills,” said Maurice. “He’s going to get the chance now. He’s got some speed and some size on his wings, and he’s got a real comfort level with Ruutu.”
That move caused some additional shuffling of the lines, the extent of which can be found here. Staal should be the only injury-related absence from the lineup, as defenseman Tim Gleason is expected to return after missing the last five games with an upper-body concern of his own.
Despite the team’s struggles, the tempo of Tuesday’s practice and the mood in the locker room afterwards were remarkably upbeat, perhaps due to an off-day Monday in which the team could clear their heads. The conference standings on the locker room marker board, normally updated daily by hand, had been wiped completely clean, which could be symbolic of a start-from-the-beginning mentality.
“Physical positioning is one thing, but the mental attitude within the position is far more important,” said Maurice.
Although it’s proven difficult to pinpoint exact reasons for the Hurricanes’ struggles – on second thought, a simple “everything” would suffice at times – the team today put their focus on playing more cohesively as a unit.
“That’s it 100 percent,” said Matt Cullen. “We’ve not been on the same page for whatever reason.”
“(We’re trying) to get more of five men moving at the same time,” said Maurice. “What we have right now is one guy sort of moving and everybody else totally waiting to see what the result of that movement is before we go. Then, your team starts to look slower.”
It would be fitting for the Canes to break the lengthy losing streak against Florida, which is the last team they managed to beat way back on October 9 by a score of 7-2. That win clearly did little to jumpstart a team that had already experience some struggles at that point, which has Maurice hoping for a different type of victory.
”We’ll take a 7-2, don’t get me wrong, but what we need is a grind win and a tight game at the end where we come out on top because we did the same things over and over again with great speed and great confidence,” said Maurice. “If you get lucky around the net or your goaltender stands on his head, I don’t think you bring much confidence out of that into the next night. Certainly we’re not turning down anything with a W in it, but we need to win a certain way to get the real confidence back in that room.”