The Canes took the ice Thursday at Raleigh Center Ice for their first practice following the Olympic break, and it had a training-camp feel to it.
The players did a lot of skating, a lot of shooting. They battled along the boards. Goaltenders Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward got a lot of work, both before and during the workout.
After the on-ice practice came more conditioning work under the direction of head trainer Pete Friesen.
"It's a little different in that we're missing some guys," Canes captain Eric Staal said. "It's not like we're going to do a lot of systems stuff the first couple of days. We're missing some key players who play important positions on our team. For us who are here it's more about getting the pace up, getting the lungs back."
The Canes had four players go to the Sochi Games. Alex Semin (Russia) and Andrej Sekera (Slovakia) have been eliminated from the competition and should be returning soon, but Justin Faulk (USA) and Tuomo Ruutu (Finland) have semifinal games Friday, with a chance to get to Sunday's gold-medal game.
As for the others, theyve been scattered. Jordan Staal said the break was "good for the body." For the mind, too.
"It's just a matter of pushing through the first few days (of practice)," he said.
The Canes have 25 games remaining and and it should be a hard push to the finish line. At 26-22-9, they're five points out of playoff position, and will play 16 of the last 25 games on the road when the season resumes Tuesday in Buffalo.
"It's a re-start button for everybody," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "I think it's a great opportunity for everyone to take a deep breath, use this break mentally, physically.
"The big picture now, as we said to the guys today, is our goal is to make the playoffs and we're going to need everybody. Certain nights some guys are going to play and certain guys aren't. We're going to need more than 20 players. We're going to need more than one goalie."
With Justin Peters assigned to the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) on a conditioning stint, Khudobin and Ward will get all the work in net. Ward has not played in an NHL game since Dec. 31 against Montreal, again being sidelined with a lower-body injury. Khudobin played in every January game and the three in February before the break.
"We're going to need both guys going," Muller said.
Muller said he hopes Sekera and Semin can rejoin practice before the team leaves Monday afternoon for Buffalo. He also thinks Faulk and/or Ruutu could play against the Sabres if the U.S. or Finland reaches the gold-medal game.
The Canes were to have played their first game after the break on Feb. 27 at Dallas, but their Jan. 7 game at Buffalo was postponed by a blizzard and rescheduled for Tuesday. That cut back on their post-break practice time. It also gives the Canes five straight road games before they'll return to PNC Arena on March 7 against the New York Rangers.
"In a perfect world we'd like to have a few more practice days to work on things," Muller said. "But it is what it is. We've just got to really condense it."