Bill Peters, a country music man at heart, said he wished he had time to take in the Alan Jackson concert Thursday at PNC Arena.
It’s just that the Carolina Hurricanes coach has more on his mind than hearing Jackson sing “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” or any of his other hits.
With October quickly coming to an end, the Hurricanes play their first home game Friday against the New York Rangers. After six straight games on the road, resulting in a disappointing 1-3-2 record, the Canes have a chance to play before their fans, on home ice.
“Outstanding,” Peters said Thursday. “It’s outstanding to be at home.”
Granted, there will be a lot of Rangers fans and blue shirts in the crowd. There always are with the Rangers in town. But it will be nice for Peters, the coaches and players to finally hear “Let’s Go Canes” a few times.
The Canes have the latest home opener of any NHL team. In the 2010-11 season, Carolina opened with two games against the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland, in the NHL Premiere. The first game at PNC Arena that season didn’t come until Oct. 27 against the Washington Capitals as the Canes played five road games once back in North America.
Jeff Skinner was an 18-year-old rookie forward in the 2010-11 season. He’s now in his seventh NHL season — let that sink in for a minute — and the forward hopes to be in the lineup Friday against the Rangers.
Skinner missed Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, a 4-2 Canes loss, with what Peters called a “middle-body” injury. Skinner skated but did not go through all of the Thursday practice at Raleigh Center Ice, but Peters said he’s probable for the home opener.
“I hope so,” Skinner said. “That’s the goal, to get back as soon as possible. I think I had a good skate. We’ll see how things progress.
“It’ll be a great atmosphere. It’s always exciting. Hopefully we can get off to a good start and establish home ice as a tough place to play.”
Skinner is serving as an alternate captain for the home games this season while center Victor Rask wears an “A” on the road. Center Jordan Staal and defenseman Justin Faulk are permanent alternate captains for the Canes, who do not have a team captain.
Skinner said he was injured Saturday during the Philadelphia Flyers game but couldn’t point to a specific play or situation. He did not specify the injury but said it slowly worsened, forcing him to miss Monday practice and then the Wings game.
Skinner laughed when told Peters used the term “middle body,” leaving a lot of guesswork.
“I guess somewhere between the chin and the shins,” Skinner said.
Skinner’s absence Tuesday was felt. His line, with Rask and right wing Lee Stempniak, carried much of the Canes’ offense the first five games. While Rask did score his fourth goal against Detroit, the line wasn’t as dangerous with Skinner out.
Skinner said Stempniak had been “heavy on the forecheck,” leading to scoring chances, goals and points. A consistently effective forecheck has been generally missing for the Canes, as a team, while tighter defensive play in the Carolina zone and better goaltending also are musts.
Two seasons ago, the Canes were 0-4-1 on the annual road trip during the N.C. State Fair. They returned to go 5-0-1 in their next six games, winning four straight at home, and would like to duplicate that turnaround.
“We want to get that winning feeling in our building,” goalie Cam Ward said.
It’s important for the Canes, Faulk said, to understand the season is just six games old. The record is not what anyone wants, but it was a six-game segment, all on the road.
“We’re confident in our group that if we play well and put together a full 60 minutes, we’ll be fine,” Faulk said.
As for the late home opener, Faulk grinned and said, “It will be weird to do our (team) introductions seven games into the season.”
Rangers at Hurricanes
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
Tickets: Limited tickets are available for Friday’s home opener. Go to http://bit.ly/2eLacMk.