The Canes have been able to take some time off to recharge after their trip to Europe, but only time will tell if it’s been enough.
On Wednesday afternoon, the team departs on a perhaps even more grueling trip across the home continent that begins Thursday in Ottawa and ends over a week later in Phoenix. It’s a lot to ask of a young team so early in the season, and there are admittedly still questions as to how they will respond.
“I don’t know,” said coach Paul Maurice. “The attitude has been good on the ice and they’re working hard, but it’s just not easy to get a feel for where you’re at.”
While he’s cautiously optimistic despite some fatigue-related struggles in practice this week, Maurice cited the visit by the Florida Panthers around this time last season. It was Florida’s first game on North American soil following a split of their opening two games against Chicago in Helsinki, and they were promptly dispatched 7-2 by a Hurricanes team that would only win one other game during the month of October.
“We all remember the game against Florida here that night,” said Maurice. “They felt good about their start. We’re going into a pretty excited building (in Ottawa), so we’ll let you know.”
The Canes technically already have one road win under their belt, something they didn’t accomplish until Dec. 7 of last season in Pittsburgh. This year’s version should come with an asterisk given that the Minnesota Wild weren’t exactly at home in Finland and because it will be a completely different experience than what they’ll encounter during the real thing.
“It will be more one-sided,” said Eric Staal. “It felt more like a home game both times in Helsinki because of our fans that were there.”
“Ottawa is probably not very happy about their start although they’ve played well in their last two games and probably deserved a better fate,” said Maurice of the 0-2-1 Senators, who have dropped games against Buffalo, Toronto and Washington. “They’re a very, very fast team, and that’s going to be our challenge to get up to speed as quickly as we can.”
Maurice added that retaining focus over the five-day layoff between games in Helsinki and Ottawa would be as important as the obvious conditioning aspects.
“You win two games and we’re clearly happy about that, but then you sometimes forget how hard it was to do that,” he said.
While the road trip will be long, the saving grace could be a few well-placed breaks between games. After the Ottawa contest, they won’t play again until Sunday in Vancouver. That begins a tough stretch of three games in four nights in California, but they’ll again get a two-day break before playing in Phoenix on Saturday.
Plans for an off day in Los Angeles Thursday include the annual rookie dinner, which will be a big event given the young roster this season, and a team trip to a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live.
“We’re doing our best to relax when we have time,” said Staal.
The Hurricanes are planning to bring their current roster to Ottawa, with a defenseman likely to join them for the remaining west-coast leg of the trip as lineup insurance. Tuomo Ruutu is expected to play on Thursday despite missing the previous day’s practice due to what Maurice termed “a minor malfunction,” as is Sergei Samsonov, who is coming off a neck strain and has not played since Sept. 21 in Atlanta.
“I’m comfortable that I can use him,” said Maurice of Samsonov. “How many minutes I’m not sure – he’s going to have to sign off on that.”
If nothing else, Samsonov may appear on the power play, where he’s worked since rejoining the team in full capacity. On Wednesday, he saw time with Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen on the first unit.
Maurice also said that the team plans to keep Jiri Tlusty in Charlotte for the full two weeks of his conditioning stint unless he’s needed due to injury. The coach added that he does not believe Tlusty is too far off in his conditioning, but that the five games he’s expected to play with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers would allow him to play more minutes at the NHL level upon his return.