Competition Magnifies as Group Thins
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With another round of cuts – which brings the Canes’ roster total to 28 – made official on Monday, training camp shifts gears from the broad to the specific. Head coach Kirk Muller said the focus now is on fine-tuning details of the team’s game after coming off the weekend 1-3 in preseason play.
“I think we’re right on course,” he said. “You always want to win, but we knew before that [in] the four games, the priority was to give everyone an opportunity to play.”
Competition for securing a spot is now magnified, as the days tick down to opening night on Oct. 4. For those still in Raleigh – including Jeremy Welsh, Zac Dalpe, Matt Corrente, Brett Bellemore, among others – time may still be on their side.
“Stage one of camp was pretty successful,” said Muller. “The guys worked hard and competed. Some guys’ stock went up, and some went in the other direction. But they still have the opportunity because we don’t have our [final group] yet.”
From the outset, Muller saw the team’s first four preseason games as a fair barometer of player evaluation; the results weren’t of chief concern.
“I’m not worried about goals against in the first few games because we had guys that were just learning the system and (essentially) two teams,” he said.
Even still, being blanked 6-0 by the Montreal Canadiens in Quebec City on Friday night didn’t sit well.
“No one wants to lose. It was a quiet plane ride to Montreal,” said Jiri Tlusty. “The next day, we knew the deal. Everyone came out hard and focused, even at the morning skate.”
That night, Anton Khudobin made 41 saves, back-stopping the Canes their first victory of the preseason, 3-1. Muller said the team surrendered just eight scoring chances in five-on-five situations.
“We wanted to prove that we can play against everyone,” Tlusty said. “We need to play our style and be sure about our game. That’s the most important thing.”
“The Montreal game was a really good sign for me that the stuff that we work on, it translates into it,” Muller said.
Khudobin’s solid performance in net, Muller said, sets the table for the team being able to ice a dynamic duo between the pipes.
“We knew when we brought him in that he was a quality goalie and a great character guy,” Muller said. “We’ve got a one-two tandem right now. There’s no reason why those two guys can’t be one of the best pairings.”
The team is currently battling a number of injuries to its top players. Tuomo Ruutu (lower-body), Alexander Semin (upper-body) and Tim Gleason (upper-body) are all considered day-to-day, but likely won’t skate with the team on Tuesday. Elias Lindholm, who did not play in any of the three road games, is also battling an upper-body concern; he skated with Rod Brind’Amour following Monday’s practice.
The Canes are set to practice in Raleigh on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning before flying out to Columbus for their fifth preseason match on Thursday evening. Carolina wraps up its preseason schedule versus Buffalo at home on Friday.