Early in the season, Canes coach Kirk Muller was asked about the style of play he wanted from his team and how an ideal game might be played.
Muller talked generally about strong forechecking and winning one-on-one battles and good defensive positioning. If asked now, his answer might be: the St. Louis game at PNC Arena.
The Canes came out Friday with a lot of jump. They scored the first goal -- on a well-executed power play, no less. They took the lead on Jeff Skinner’s 23rd goal of the season and then killed off key penalties against one of the best power plays in the league. They got strong goaltending from Anton Khudobin, and when there were rebounds they boxed out the Blues' forwards and cleared the puck.
"He was sharp and made big saves," Muller said. "He made the first (stop) and I thought our 'D' did a good job of taking away the second and third rebounds."
Against a team that was second in the NHL in scoring, the Canes allowed one goal. The Blues, who had had outscored teams 123-66 in the second and third periods of games, were blanked in the second and third in losing 3-1.
"Everyone was focused," Muller said.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock talked after the game about being disappointed in the "body language" of his players, of how it appeared the game was "too hard” for them. As for the body language of the Canes, it was all positive, and in a game with a high intensity level.
"They're a big team and they work hard," Canes center Jordan Staal said. "You had to battle for every puck and every little play someone is finishing you. It was a good, tight battle for us."
The Canes have three games left before the Olympic break -- the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, then a back-to-back against Florida and Montreal on Friday and Saturday. All three are at PNC Arena, and the Canes realize the importance of continuing their recent run of good play on home ice.
Former Canes coach Paul Maurice will be in the house Tuesday, which should make things interesting. Since taking over as the Jets' interim coach on Jan. 12, Maurice has a 7-2 record.
There's also the matter of goalie Cam Ward. He was sent to the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) for a conditioning stint this weekend, played back-to-back games against the Lake Erie Monsters and stopped 59 of 63 shots.
Ward was recalled Sunday by the Canes and should be at practice Monday. The question now: will he get a game before the Olympic break?
Khudobin has played in 14 straight games, entering one in relief of Justin Peters. And it's believed the Canes do not want Ward, who has not started a game for Carolina since New Year's Eve, to go into late February without being in net against NHL competition.
But every point is precious with the Metropolitan Division standings so tight. And Khudobin has been so solid, so steady, so confident.
“I feel comfortable every game. I’m just taking it game by game,” Khudobin said.
For the Canes, that’s the ideal approach.