Five questions for the Hurricanes

Chip AlexanderOctober 7, 2010 

Q: Can the Canes survive the start?

Good question. The early schedule is brutal, with the first two games in Finland, followed by a five-game road trip once back in North America. And the first two home games are against Washington and Pittsburgh in late October.

A year ago, the Canes were 2-12-4 in their first 18 games and never fully recovered. Said team owner Peter Karmanos Jr., "We'll have a better start this year. That won't be hard."

Q: Will Cam Ward's back hold up?

The Canes' star goaltender has had back issues the last two seasons. Ward says the back feels strong and that he will maintain an exercise program - one that has included Pilates - during the season. Still, it's hard to imagine him pushing 70 games again in a regular season, as he did in the '08 and '09 seasons.

Q: Will Jeff Skinner be around all season? Carolina's first-round draft pick this year appears to have the skill, temperament and conditioning to stick with the team as an 18-year-old rookie. The Canes must either keep the forward on the roster or return him to his junior team for the regular season. Odds are, he'll be wearing No. 53 in a Canes sweater for some time.

Q: Can the Canes win on the cheap?

Carolina will have one of the NHL's lowest payrolls this year and will have one of the league's youngest teams. Said Karmanos: "We need some good luck and to avoid freakish injuries. But we have a defense that can move the puck and help offensively. We have an outstanding set of forwards and one of the best goalies in the league. I think it will be a competitive team and one that's fun to watch."

Q: Are the Canes tough enough?

The Canes are not a big, physical team, notably on the back end. Gone are such bruisers as Aaron Ward, Andrew Alberts and Nic Wallin. But coach Paul Maurice believes his defensemen will handle the puck better in the defensive zone, and Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, Anton Babchuk, Jamie McBain and Jay Harrison give his team a good blend of strength and quickness, even if there isn't a real heavyweight.

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