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Strong Test to Start

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
It’s really no wonder the Canes designed their training camp with the intention of maximizing the team’s focus right off the bat, because that’s when they’ll have potentially their toughest back-to-back set of games for the entire season.

Paul Branecky
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It can’t possibly get much more difficult than Philadelphia and Boston in consecutive days – teams which some pundits are picking to finish first and second in the Eastern Conference in some order. I’ve at least taken a glance at 20 or so ranking and previews from various media outlets, and the lowest I’ve seen either team ranked is fourth.

Only another set of back-to-backs at the end of this month – at Philadelphia on Halloween followed by a home date with San Jose – comes close to that kind of difficulty, at least from where we stand here on the eve of opening night.

Long story short, not a lot of time to get those legs and hands going.

“It’ll force you to define your game and to really be sharp with the style of game that you have to play,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “I don’t think that you can let the talent that those teams will show loose on the ice. We have to be very, very disciplined with what we do.”

At any rate, any of the Canes’ players and coaches will tell you that it doesn’t matter how strong the opponent is as long as they play their game, which is true. They’ve got a number of things going for them, including that they get to start in what should be a jazzed-up atmosphere at home on a Friday night.

Another thing is that, with the start of the season only one day away, I like the way this page looks (no disrespect to Michael Ryan). It’s easy to take that for granted, but remember that that chart had a 30-goal scorer on it until December of last season. OK, I think I’ve successfully said enough about that issue without jinxing anything. Knock on wood, just in case.

Moving along, the only major player in question is Joni Pitkanen, who continues to practice with the team and look just fine in doing so. He’s taken on his expected regular pairing alongside Aaron Ward, moving Jay Harrison back with Tim Conboy on the fourth defensive unit.

“I think the injury is fine, the question is whether he’s practiced enough to get into a full-tilt back-to-back game,” said Maurice. “We’ll answer that tomorrow.”

Even if Pitkanen does suit up, it will be interesting to see what kind of minutes he logs in his first game action of the year. He led the Canes and ranked 15th in the NHL with an average of 24:48 minutes played per game last season. That could be a tall order for opening night.

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