RALEIGH — Tim Gleason is back to being his old, rugged, often agitated self.
Mike Komisarek is a big man who knows how to use his size and won’t hesitate to level a player, if need be.
Jay Harrison likes things physical. Justin Faulk certainly doesn’t mind it.
Andrej Sekera appears to be steady, quietly and efficiently getting the job done. Ron Hainsey, like Sekera, is a proven commodity.
When the Carolina Hurricanes began training camp Wednesday, there was the disconcerting news that defenseman Joni Pitkanen would miss the season because of a broken heel bone that has not healed sufficiently. But by Sunday’s Red-White game at PNC Arena, there was a sense that while Pitkanen will be missed, the Hurricanes may collectively have enough players on the back end – and the right blend of defensemen – to make up for his loss.
“We’ll have a balanced group,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said Sunday. “(Pitkanen) is a special player and to none of these guys are we going to say, ‘Replace Pit.’ I think the trick will be monitoring it and whether we can balance it out among six or seven D. I think that’s the test.”
In Sunday’s game, won by Eric Staal’s Red team 3-1, Gleason was paired defensively with Komisarek, Faulk with Sekera and Harrison with Ryan Murphy, the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2011. Hainsey, a veteran who signed a free-agent contract Thursday, played much of the game with Matt Corrente, a former first-round pick of the New Jersey Devils.
“Looking at the group, two things that look a little different than in years past is there’s a really good balance and size as well,” Harrison said. “We’re a little bit bigger and take up more room out there. I think that will really contribute to the type of game we’re trying to play, especially from our zone on out.”
Komisarek is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, and looks bigger. Harrison is 6-4 and 220, and Hainsey listed at 6-3 and 210.
Gleason, Faulk and Sekera all are 6 feet and all are strong, sturdy types. Sekera was obtained in a June trade with Buffalo that sent Jamie McBain, who rarely appeared to be in top physical condition, to the Sabres.
Brett Bellemore, who played much of last season with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League, adds more size at 6-4 and 225 pounds. The only little guy is Murphy, a speedy, skilled player who is 5-11 and 185 pounds.
“It’s a good mixture, for sure,” Gleason said.
The Canes were 26th in the NHL in shots against (32.2) per game and 29th in goals against (3.31) last season, a big reason they finished 19-25-4.
“Without question that has to improve, and I think you have seen in the first workouts how important that is and how much we have stressed that,” Harrison said. “I think the group we have assembled is fit for the task.”
In Sunday’s game, Eric Staal, Alex Semin and Drayson Bowman had goals for the Red, and Zac Dalpe scored the lone goal for the White team captained by Jordan Staal. Bowman’s was a power-play score, and the other three goals came off well-executed rushes.
While the game was not as brutal as the Friday scrimmage, Komisarek sent Zach Boychuk tumbling to the ice with a big hit. Gleason also tangled with Boychuk and again exchanged some hits with Jared Staal.
“‘Gleas’ has to play on the edge,” Muller said. “He needs to play physical. … He’s not a guy who can sit back and play conservative.”
That’s fine with Gleason. Nor did he mind the rough stuff coming from Jared Staal, a young forward trying to make the roster.
“I actually love it,” Gleason said. “Now’s the time to get ready and get in game-ready shape and I think that’s why it’s more intense. There are guys who want it and that pushes the level higher and higher every day.”
NOTE: The Canes on Sunday returned forward Sergey Tolchinsky and defenseman Trevor Carrick to their respective junior teams in the Ontario Hockey League. They were the first training-camp roster cuts.
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