Relaxed Canes take to the road, for practice

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 4, 2013 

— With singer John Mayer appearing Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena, the Carolina Hurricanes looked like an army on the move.

Unable to skate at the arena, the Canes changed into full hockey gear in the locker room, then boarded a bus for a short ride to the Centennial Sportsplex for practice. After practice, some of the players plopped down on a grassy bank outside the rink, still in their gear, making the most of some warm, sunny weather before the ride back downtown.

As for the practice, it was short but brisk. There was a lot of banter, before and after it.

A decisive win can do that. Beating the Washington Capitals 4-1 on Tuesday, ending a two-game slide with a road victory, eased the tension significantly.

“We’re a little more relaxed on the road right now than we are at home,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said Wednesday. “But we worked hard and we worked the right way.”

Muller made two decisions leading up to the Caps game and both worked well. Winger Jeff Skinner was placed on Eric Staal’s line with Tuomo Ruutu and had two goals and an assist, and Justin Peters got the start in net and finished with 26 saves in a rock-solid effort.

Skinner will stay on Staal’s line for Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators. Muller said no decision had been made on the starting goaltender – Peters again or Cam Ward.

While defenseman Tim Gleason returned to practice Wednesday, the Hurricanes (11-12-5) will be without defenseman Brett Bellemore for the Preds game. Bellemore, who took a jarring hit from the Caps’ Tom Wilson in the neutral zone late in the second period Tuesday, has some stiffness in his neck and returned to Raleigh on Wednesday, Muller said.

Gleason has missed the past five games with a lower-body injury and is available to play, Muller said. But he added Gleason likely would need a few more practices before rejoining the lineup.

Muller was pleased with the creativity, work and production of his top line against the Caps. Skinner, playing with plenty of jump, had a season-high seven shots, Ruutu five and Staal three as they combined for 15 of Carolina’s 32 shots.

“Our best players were our best players,” Muller said. “They worked to get the puck and they made good decisions.

“Of course, ‘Skins’ is a goal-scorer and shot the puck and got a couple of goals. But they had a shooting mentality and they played the right way. When they’re playing like that and working, they’re going to create stuff.”

Skinner’s first goal gave the Canes a 1-0 lead for only the ninth time this season. Taking a pass from Eric Staal, Skinner got off a shot from a bad angle that beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby short side, the puck squeezing through near Holtby’s skate.

“Sometimes, you get lucky and it finds a way in,” he said.

His second goal midway through the second made it 2-0 and the Canes pushed the lead to 4-0 after two. Skinner was seeking his first hat trick in 205 NHL games and his teammates were looking for him in the third, trying to help make it happen.

“I didn’t want it I guess,” Skinner said, smiling.

Skinner smiled again when told it was almost like a replay of the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, when his teammates tried – futilely – to set him up for a goal in front of the home fans.

“I thought of that in the last couple of minutes,” he said. “I guess the chances were there, which is a positive. I’ll have to wait for that one.”

The Canes expect a tough, grinding game at Bridgestone Arena, where Carolina has dropped five straight dating back to December 2002. The Predators (13-12-3) lost 3-1 at home against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday and are last in the NHL’s Central Division but have two more points than the Canes.

“They work hard,” Muller said. “They crash the net. They have pride in defense. It’s going to be a hard-working game. We’ll have to put our work boots on and play a blue-collar game.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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