For the Carolina Hurricanes, it’s time.
Training camp has ended and seven exhibitions have been played. Two major injuries – to center Jordan Staal and winger Jeff Skinner – have been absorbed. The Canes have a new coach, Bill Peters, who has brought in a new voice, new vision and new structure.
It’s time to play. On Friday, just a little past 7 p.m., the puck will drop on the 2014-15 season at PNC Arena. The New York Islanders will be the opponent, just as they will be Saturday when the teams face off again at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
“Obviously the excitement’s there,” Canes captain Eric Staal said Thursday. “For us to get going, we’re pumped for that. It will be fun.”
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Jordan Staal, out three to four months with a broken leg, will be at PNC Arena for the opener, Eric Staal said. Skinner, out indefinitely with a concussion, might not be able to be at the game.
To go into a new season without their best offensive forward and defensive forward is not a good situation for the Canes. Prognosticators have Carolina finishing last in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division and last in the Eastern Conference.
“But we can’t worry about anything like that,” Eric Staal said. “We have to worry about what we’ve got to do here. With the type of people we have, we will do that.”
Peters said Cam Ward would be the starting goaltender for the opener. He also announced defenseman Andrej Sekera would serve as a permanent alternate captain this season, and defensemen Jay Harrison and Ron Hainsey would rotate as alternate captains until Jordan Staal, who wears an “A,” returns from injury.
Given Anton Khudobin’s strong play in net last season, many assumed he might be the Canes’ No. 1 goalie. Ward, the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner when the Canes won the Stanley Cup, had the better preseason outings and earned the start.
“We like both our goaltenders and will need both our goaltenders,” Peters said. “(Ward) had a real good summer and he’s healthy. He came in here and played real well. He was good in the preseason. Anton was right there with him, too, and we could have gone either way.”
Ward and Khudobin were sidelined by injuries last season – Ward twice missing a chunk of games with a groin injury. Khudobin, after recovering from an ankle sprain that kept him out 21/2 months, was named the NHL’s first star of the month for January and set a franchise single-season record for save percentage.
Ward returned to Raleigh this summer off a rigorous offseason conditioning program, determined to return to the form that made him the Canes’ franchise goalie.
“With my injuries, you try to get in the best shape possible so you prevent those injuries from happening again,” he said. “But it’s also cleaning up your mindset, being fresh mentally to not to carry the past experiences. Put them away, realize those don’t exist anymore and move on.”
There will be new faces in the Canes’ lineup for the opener. Victor Rask, 21, will make his NHL debut and center the second line with fellow Swede Elias Lindholm and Nathan Gerbe. Winger Patrick Brown, 22, also will be playing his first NHL game.
Center Jay McClement is beginning his 10th NHL season but first for the Canes. His parents and in-laws have made the 12-hour drive from Kingston, Ont., for the season opener, he said.
“There’s always a lot of buildup and anticipation,” he said. “It was a long summer and this is what you work for. There’s going to be adrenaline, on both sides, but usually after the first couple of shifts things settle down. You just have to make sure you’re focused and ready to go.”
Peters will be behind the bench for the first time as an NHL head coach. A year ago, he was an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings and on the visiting bench when the Wings and Canes played the season opener at PNC Arena.
It will be a different experience for the Three Hills, Alberta, native.
“Oh, it’ll be exciting,” Peters said. “It’ll be exciting for numerous reasons. I look forward to it, but I look forward to the opportunity to open the season and get off to a good start. That’s first and foremost in my mind.”