Hurricanes' next test - five more road games

Staff writerOctober 12, 2010 

— The Carolina Hurricanes had a day of sun and relaxation Monday, participating in the Kids 'N Community charity golf tournament at Cary's Prestonwood Country Club.

A week ago Monday, the Canes were in St. Petersburg, Russia. Next Monday, they will be in San Jose, Calif.

If one of the players wakes up in a dark hotel room in the next week or so, not knowing what city or time zone he's in for a few moments, it will be understandable. Carolina's early-season schedule is just that unwieldy, that crazy - and that challenging.

The Canes returned from their European trip - an exhibition game in Russia, the first two regular-season games in Helsinki, Finland - early Saturday. Because of the dates of the N.C. State Fair, which begins Thursday, they will leave Wednesday afternoon for five straight road games.

The Hurricanes play Thursday in Ottawa against the Senators. Then it's on to face the Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes before flying back Oct. 23.

"It's time to regroup, forget our first two games and move on," forward Tuomo Ruutu said.

And that from one of the Canes' three native Finns.

No one looked forward to opening a new season in Helsinki more than the Canes' Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen.

Ruutu, who owns a house in Helsinki, was able to sleep in his own bed last week, enjoying all the creature comforts of home.

"But this will be a huge trip for us," Ruutu said. "There are 10 points available on this road trip, so it's even bigger than the first one."

The Canes secured four points for the two wins over the Minnesota Wild in Finland. But the Helsinki games were played in Hartwall Areena, a neutral site. The atmosphere at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place - and in arenas further west - will be a lot different.

"There was no one hanging over the glass giving you the what's for," Canes coach Paul Maurice said of playing before the mostly polite crowds in Helsinki.

Maurice came away from the back-to-back victories over the Wild with a better feel for his team, for how the Canes must play games to win.

Cam Ward was very sharp in net. The Canes used their team speed to move the puck and create scoring opportunities, but also to recover defensively.

"I think we're a quick team," forward Chad LaRose said. "We've got young, fresh legs and a lot of exuberance on this team."

Added Ruutu: "We have some guys who are really fast and good skaters. It's probably going to be one of our strengths."

Players and coaches inevitably talk about "team bonding" whenever there are long stretches of road games. So it was for the Canes.

"I think we're going to be very close-knit," LaRose said.

Carolina had two rookie forwards on the European excursion, Jeff Skinner and Zac Dalpe. Forward Patrick O'Sullivan has NHL experience but is a newcomer to the team, and defenseman Anton Babchuk is back after a season in Russia.

All played in preseason NHL games and then the ultra-rugged exhibition game against SKA St. Petersburg. But the two games in Helsinki were the ones that mattered, that counted.

"Going over [to Europe] we definitely didn't know what to expect," Skinner said. "We had a tough game in Russia, then followed up with two wins in Finland. It was a lot of fun and good for the team to start like that."

Sounds more like a veteran, doesn't it?

The next five games, all in the other teams' buildings, will provide more answers.

"We move on to another test," general manager Jim Rutherford said. "That's what these seasons are all about.

"What I've liked from the start of training camp is the work ethic and determination of these guys. It appears to me to be a group that's coming together."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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