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Gameday: Canes Energized After Break in Schedule

Saturday, 01.18.2014 / 12:30 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Gameday: Canes Energized After Break in Schedule
With dirt and the remnants of a dog-riding monkey littering the floor of PNC Arena, the Carolina Hurricanes had to hold their morning skate at their practice rink, Raleigh Center Ice, on Saturday.

Michael Smith
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It was a rare occasion, but one that used to be somewhat of a norm.

“This used to be the old way. Teams would practice lots of times in their practice rinks. It’s a bit of a different taste,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’ve had enough time here, and once our guys walk into the dressing room tonight, they’ll be getting their game faces on for a big game tonight.”

Tonight, the Canes will host the Florida Panthers, also something that used to be a norm as a former Southeast Division opponent. Now with the Panthers, who have earned points in three of its last four games, in the Atlantic Division, the two teams will meet just three times this season. Since the 1999-2000 season, Carolina holds a 28-7-4 home record against the Panthers.

Following two consecutive shutout losses, the Hurricanes used a week of practice to refocus their game heading into a stretch before the Olympic break that will see the team play 11 games in 22 days.

“We used (this week) to focus on the details, work on different stuff and reenergize the guys. They’ve got some rest, but they worked hard in practices, so they’re focused,” Muller said. “We should be a focused team ready for tonight.”

Carolina also utilized three days of practice to rearrange their lines, reuniting the “big three” from last season on the top line in Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty. Both Staal and Tlusty are a game removed from returning from injuries, and Semin has gone without a point in four of his last five games.

While the trio combined for 135 points (54g, 81a) last season, Muller isn’t necessarily looking for immediate production.

“I just want them to be one of our hardest-working lines. That’s all. If they work hard, they have the ability and skill there and are capable of scoring, making plays and playing against anybody,” he said. “Discipline, short shifts and play hard. If they do that, they might score this weekend or they might not. But when it finally kicks in, they’ve got the chemistry to be a very potent line. They can’t look at the production and results first without doing the little things.”

Jeff Skinner, who leads the team with 21 goals, will play on the left side with Elias Lindholm in the middle and Tuomo Ruutu on the opposite wing. Muller said the move could force teams to reconsider their match-ups.

“Skins creates a lot on his own. That’s why I think it’s great to have the flexibility of moving him around,” Muller said. “He’s playing with two good hockey players. Lindy is a play-maker, and Ruuts is a guy that has to get in there, create some havoc and create some turnovers for Skins.”

Anton Khudobin has never faced Florida in his career, but he figures to get the nod in net tonight, his seventh consecutive start. He holds a 6-2-0 record on the season with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.

Tonight’s game is the first of one of two back-to-back home sets this season. It’s also the 11th of 20 back-to-back sets for the team. The Canes are 5-4-1 in the front halves and 3-4-3 in the back halves thus far.

Practicing on the smaller ice at RCI for much of the week, the Canes had high-tempo, high-energy practices with an emphasis on battle drills. Now, the team has to carry that into the game tonight and beyond, as they look to climb back into the playoff picture.

“They have been energetic,” Muller said. “I think our guys have been good like that for awhile. I think the big thing is, the past few days, they’ve brought the energy, and they’ve focused on the details of our game.

“It’s great to have the energy here, but you have to make sure you conserve it, save it and bring it into the game,” Muller continued. “It’s a big weekend, and it starts tonight.”



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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
5 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
11 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
12 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 54 15 19 -13 34
J. Skinner 55 19 12 -3 31
V. Rask 53 12 19 0 31
J. Staal 55 12 19 7 31
K. Versteeg 54 10 21 1 31
E. Staal 55 9 21 1 30
E. Lindholm 55 8 16 -9 24
A. Nestrasil 48 8 12 0 20
J. Nordstrom 44 5 10 2 15
R. Hainsey 55 3 11 -12 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 15 11 7 .909 2.34
E. Lack 9 10 3 .901 2.74
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