It’s not as if they took four days off from hockey, sat back, opened gifts and played with the kids.
Many of the Carolina Hurricanes, who host the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, did leave Raleigh for the Christmas break. But most managed to get in workouts, some did some skating, and all tried to keep a hockey mindset.
The Canes’ Jeff Skinner went to Toronto for a few days but said he headed to the gym he uses in the summer for some conditioning.
“Obviously it can be tough any time you take that much time off but I think guys these days are a little more conscious of taking care of themselves off the ice,” Skinner said after the Canes’ morning skate. “But it’s always going to be an adjustment coming back. You may not have the feeling in your hands or your timing is a little off. It’s important to get out there and get your legs going as quick as you can and get into the game.”
The Canes last played Monday, losing 2-1 to the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena. Skinner and others said they got a scheduling break this year by playing their first post-Christmas game at home.
Eric and Jordan Staal and their families went to Thunder Bay for Christmas. Unlike Raleigh, there was snow on the ground.
“You can get outside a little bit or go in the gym,” Jordan Staal said. “But it’s also nice to rest the bodies, as well. It’s Christmas. You try to take your time mentally and physically but be ready for when you get back into it.”
Staal said the day-after-Christmas games can be unpredictable, saying, “Your work ethic has to be good. It won’t be the prettiest. You just have to find a way.”
— Canes coach Bill Peters calls Carolina’s 5-1 loss to the Devils on Dec. 3 a turning point of sorts for his team.
Changes soon were made. Forwards Phil Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn, and defenseman Jaccob Slavin were recalled from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL). Kris Versteeg was made a healthy scratch for the next game, against Montreal, sending a message. The loss, and the lack of effort in the game, were deemed unacceptable by management.
Peters said Saturday he didn’t think there would be much carryover from that game but noted, “I think guys remember we didn’t play very well, we didn’t compete hard enough, and obviously I think we did some good things in bringing in some young guys who have stayed in our lineup since then.
“Obviously we were disappointed in our effort that night and I don’t want to be disappointed leaving the game here tonight.”
The Canes were 8-13-4 after the loss to the Devils and are 5-3-1 since Dec. 3. McGinn soon was returned to the Checkers but Di Giuseppe and Slavin have remained in the lineup.
— The Canes’ lines against the Devils will have Eric Staal at center with Versteeg and Elias Lindholm; Jordan Staal with Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil; Victor Rask centering Skinner and Di Giuseppe, and Jay McClement at center with Brad Malone and Riley Nash. Chris Terry will be the extra forward.
The defensive pairs are: Ron Hainsey-Justin Faulk, John-Michael Liles-Brett Pesce, and Noah Hanifin-Slavin. Michal Jordan is the extra.
Cam Ward will make his fourth straight start in net, having allowed four goals in the past three games, stopping 72 of 76 shots. Cory Schneider will be the starting goalie for the Devils.
— Tuomo Ruutu wasn’t in Raleigh for the Dec. 3 game, recovering from a right foot fracture that he suffered blocking a shot.
“I was watching at home, that’s probably why we won,” Ruutu joked Saturday.
Ruutu, 32, played 378 games for the Canes before being traded to New Jersey in March 2014. Another Devils forward, Jiri Tlusty, played 322 games for Carolina.
Ruutu, who missed 27 games this season with the foot injury, has played just seven games this season and does not have a point.
Ruutu said he enjoys returning to Raleigh and PNC Arena, saying, “Obviously you have mixed feelings when you get traded but there’s a whole lot of good memories.”
Ruutu has had his share of injuries in his career, including surgery to repair both hips, but said, “It’s fun when you come back. You forget all that other stuff and you’re like a little kid when you’re out there.”