RALEIGH — Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner was cooling down Thursday, having put in the final practice of training camp.
“Seems like camp has been pretty long,” he said. “I think everybody is ready to go.”
Had Skinner said it loud enough, it’s possible every head in the locker room would have nodded.
Many NHL teams already have gotten the new season started. That includes the Detroit Red Wings, who will be at PNC Arena on Friday for the Canes’ opener.
The Red Wings edged the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 Wednesday in Detroit, denying the Sabres on seven power plays. It was a strong showing in the Wings’ first game as a member of the Eastern Conference.
By the time the puck drops at PNC Arena, 26 teams will have played at least one game. Canes coach Kirk Muller hopes that doesn’t cause players to be overanxious.
“You want them to have that nice, nervous energy,” Muller said. “You want to make sure you do it in a smart way. That’s the trick for an opening home game.
“We’ve got a good opponent coming in and I think the key is just go out and play. We’ve just got to relax and have fun. … Just go out, get a shot, get a hit, simplify.”
The training camp was Muller’s first as an NHL head coach. He took over as coach when Paul Maurice was fired in November 2011 and was forced to do everything on the fly. Then came the NHL lockout last year. When it ended, there was only time for a couple days of training camp and the games began.
This year, Muller finally could instruct, install systems, evaluate players, slowly reduce the roster, try different combinations and play six exhibition games. Then, as he put it, he could fine-tune everything in the days leading up to the opener.
“We’ve had enough time to cover everything,” he said.
On Thursday, special teams were a focus. Muller again tried rookie forward Elias Lindholm on a power-play unit with Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, Jiri Tlusty and Ryan Murphy, saying he liked the look of Lindholm and his right-hand shot in the slot.
Muller used Staal at the point, saying, “He seems to be a little more involved and has the puck a little more back there, shooting and playmaking.”
A second power-play unit had Jordan Staal, Skinner and Nathan Gerbe working with defensemen Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison at the points.
“Two different combinations, two different looks,” Muller said. “It’s experimental. It’s the one area we spent the least (time) that we wanted to work on because of personnel.”
The Canes’ top line from last season – Eric Staal, Semin and Tlusty – will stay intact, given the good production and chemistry it had last season. Jordan Staal will center Gerbe and Patrick Dwyer, and Riley Nash will center the third line with Skinner and Radek Dvorak on the wings.
Muller had four forwards alternating on the fourth line Thursday – Lindholm, Drayson Bowman, Brett Sutter and Kevin Westgarth.
Muller said the Canes likely will dress six defensemen. During Thursday’s practice, Faulk was paired with Andrej Sekera, Harrison with Murphy and Ron Hainsey with Brett Bellemore. Mike Komisarek also is available on the back end.
Defenseman Tim Gleason remains out with a concussion and will be sidelined indefinitely. But forward Tuomo Ruutu, coming off a knee injury suffered in a preseason game, skated on his own Wednesday and Thursday and general manager Jim Rutherford said Ruutu might rejoin practice in another week.
Looking at the Canes’ probable lineup against the Wings, nine players will be 25 or younger. Lindholm, 18, is the youngest and Dvorak the oldest at 36.
“When you miss the playoffs the year before, it makes for a long summer of working out, skating, training,” Komisarek said. “You just want to start competing and playing, especially when (NHL) games started on Tuesday and we don’t start ‘til Friday. We’ve been chomping at the bit.”
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