The Canes have played 34 games, more than enough to carve out some form of team identity.
But what is it?
"I think it's we're hard to play against," defenseman Tim Gleason said Thursday. "We're consistent. We'd like to have more wins but when it comes to system wise I think we're pretty consistent, with five guys in the picture at all times and especially in our defensive zone. I think it shows in how consistent we're playing in our zone.
"But it's something you've always got to continue to work on and get better at every day. We can get better in all areas.”
The Canes (14-13-7) have dealt with injuries this season -- goalies Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin, forward Jeff Skinner and Alex Semin. Gleason was out with concussion, then another injury. Defenseman Brett Bellemore has missed games with a concussion.
"But that shows how deep the team is when you have injuries like that and guys come in and play and play well," Gleason said. "It makes jobs harder to get back. But collectively I think we're playing pretty good."
The team dynamic could change with roster moves. The NHL trade freeze begins at 11:59 p.m. Thursday and lasts until after the Christmas break.
Gleason's name has been one often mentioned in NHL trade scuttlebutt -- not that he said he pays much attention to it.
"I know the deal," he said. "You just come to work every day and do the best you can."
The Canes were back in PNC Arena for practice Thursday after two days at Raleigh Center Ice. Eric Staal was absent -- Canes coach Kirk Muller said Staal had a touch of the flu but would play Friday against the Washington Capitals.
Elias Lindholm filled in for Staal at center on the line with Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu. Jordan Staal centered Nathan Gerbe and Semin, Riley Nash centered Jiri Tlusty and Pat Dwyer, and Manny Malhotra was at center with Drayson Bowman, Radek Dvorak and Kevin Westgarth.
Muller said Lindholm may leave Friday to compete for the Swedish national junior team in the 2014 World Junior Championship in Sweden.
Cam Ward and Justin Peters were in net for the practice, and Khudobin made an appearance late. Muller did not name a starter for the Caps, saying he would wait unti Friday.
Asked about juggling three goalies, Muller said, "To be honest, right now you just go on your gut and go on performance and the little things you see. It's a good problem to have."
Muller did say Khudobin still needs more practice time. He also said a conditioning stint in Charlotte with the Checkers (AHL) is "something he will have to think about and consider."
"Odds are, if he does go down, it's probably a quicker opportunity to get back in net for a (Canes) game because he'll get more practice time. … The tough thing is there's not enough net time for three goalies right now, so it's making it tougher for him."
The Canes have not played a game since Saturday in Phoenix, when they closed a four-game Western road trip with a 3-1 win. After Sunday and Monday off, they've put it in practices the past three days -- an unusually long schedule break -- and spent time on special teams Thursday.
"The big focus was keeping our focus, keeping the energy we have from the road trip," Muller said. "The guys have been going hard, practicing at a high tempo."