RALEIGH — It was a team practice for the Carolina Hurricanes, but felt more like training camp redux.
The Canes, in their first official workout after the NHL break for the Winter Olympics, did a lot of skating Thursday at Raleigh Center Ice. They took a lot of shots. The goaltenders, Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward, got in a lot of work.
When the on-ice work ended, there was off-ice work. Head trainer Pete Friesen put the players through their conditioning paces.
As Canes coach Kirk Muller said, “It’s a restart button for everybody.”
The Canes were missing all four players who went to Sochi for the Olympics. The Games have ended for Alex Semin (Russia) and Andrej Sekera (Slovakia), whose teams were eliminated, and they could be back for practice by Sunday. Justin Faulk (U.S) and Tuomo Ruutu (Finland) hope to be a part of the gold-medal game on Sunday in Sochi.
But Muller hopes to have the team reassembled by Tuesday’s game in Buffalo and ready for a strong push to the finish line in the regular season.
With a 26-22-9 record and 61 points, Carolina is three points out of playoff position. The Canes will play the first five games after the break on the road, and 16 of their final 25 games will be away.
“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,” Muller said. “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 goalie Justin Peters assigned Wednesday 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 games in February before the break.
“We’re going to need both guys going,” Muller said.
The Canes initially were to have resumed the season Feb. 27 in Dallas against the Stars. But their Jan. 7 game at Buffalo was postponed by a blizzard and rescheduled for Feb. 25, cutting into the practice time.
“It’s not like we’re going to do a lot of systems stuff the first couple of days,” Canes captain Eric Staal said. “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.”
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 played their last four games before the Olympic break at PNC Arena, beating St. Louis and Florida and losing to Winnipeg and Montreal. Carolina is 15-12-5 at home and 11-10-4 on the road.
Muller smiled Thursday when asked if he or someone on his staff had tried to do the math for a guesstimate on the amount of points that might be needed to reach the playoffs.
“Everyone has a different thought process and comes up with different numbers,” he said. “We’ve been a good road team, so we feel very comfortable we can have success there. We were better at home in the later part of the schedule (before the break) than before, so that’s a good sign.
“I don’t know what the magic number is. I know we’ve just got to play good hockey.”
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