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Fast start, physical play keys to Hurricanes' success

by Davis Harper

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

After seeing their team miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past five seasons, Carolina Hurricanes fans will settle for no less than a return to the postseason in 2014-15.

Bill Peters, who enters his first season as an NHL coach after three spent assisting Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings, is right there with them. Peters said a playoff appearance would require consistent effort, mental toughness and a will to win. Now it's up to Peters and his staff to infuse the Hurricanes, a team largely unchanged from the one which finished last season 13th in the Eastern Conference, with these qualities.

As training camp gives way to the regular season, here are three keys for the Hurricanes entering the season:

1. Offensive efficiency across all situations -- In 2013-14, the Hurricanes were 22nd in goals per game (2.50). They struggled to score early (27th in first-period goals) and late, carrying a .350 winning percentage in games that went to overtime or a shootout. The Hurricanes trailed after the first period in 29 games, including 12 at home. Most concerning, though, was their 14.6 percent power-play conversion rate, which ranked 28th in the League.

Peters is looking to shuffle lines in training camp and early in the season to identify which players have chemistry. He is counting on expensive top-line talent like Alexander Semin, Jiri Tlusty and Eric Staal to return to form, and for young players including Elias Lindholm and defenseman Ryan Murphy to have a larger presence at even strength and on the power play.

"I know the principles we're going to have on the power play," Peters said. "We want to shoot the puck, we want to have a good retrieval program, we want to be aggressive and we want pucks and bodies to the net. So we have a good idea of how we want to play, now we need to find the guys who have chemistry together and get on the same page."

2. Playing physically, but intelligently -- For the past few seasons, Carolina has been one of the softer teams in the League. They take few penalties and participate in relatively few fights. The Hurricanes' two depth forward additions this offseason, Jay McClement and Brad Malone, add an element of physicality, but Peters said he wanted more of an edge up and down the lineup.

"We want to be physical on the forecheck, be physical upon arrival," Peters said. "We want to be physical in the D-zone so we can win our battles and be efficient in breaking the puck out of our zone. You don't have to be a big guy to be physical. That's what we can do, get in with speed and work ethic and play hard throughout the lineup."

Alexander Semin
Right Wing - CAR
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 20 | PTS: 42
SOG: 210 | +/-: 1
3. Getting off to a fast start -- Last season, Carolina got off to a 4-7-3 start. Semin, Tlusty and Staal did not enter the season fully healthy, and the goalie tandem of Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin was shelved due to injury early and often. By mid-November, the Hurricanes were already chasing most of the Eastern Conference.

This season, reports from Carolina say Semin's problematic wrist is fully healed, Staal's core-muscle surgery in July went off without a hitch, and Ward and Khudobin will enter camp healthy and with confidence. Best of all, Carolina's core group -- Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, Lindholm and Murphy -- come in with another season of NHL experience under their belts.

"The preseason for this organization right now is huge, with new management, new coaches and a few new players and players looking to bounce back," Peters said. "We do not want to get off to a slow start to the regular season. We do not want to be chasing a playoff spot. We want to get off to a good start, and maintain it."

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