Gameday: Homestand Continues vs. Winnipeg
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The Canes are looking to ride the momentum of a successful January, in which the team posted a 10-4-0 record.
“Everyone knows that every game is so important. You want to look at it one game at a time, obviously, but we know the countdown is on with the Olympic break coming up,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “It’s kind of nice because guys can go all out and start resting next week. We have a tough opponent tonight that’s playing really well, and we’ve got to put all our focus on this game tonight.”
Tonight’s tilt marks the first of two meetings between the two teams, who are now no longer divisional rivals. While the road team has claimed victory in 16 of the last 22 meetings between these two clubs, the Canes are 14-10-5 at home this season and are riding a three-game home winning streak.
“We’re playing a simple game here,” Muller said. “The big focus is there, as well. I think everyone understand where we are in the standings and what the league’s all about. When you have an opportunity to win at home, good teams have a good home record, and we knew we had to get it going in a better direction. We did that in the month of January, so now we just have to build on it.”
The Canes’ homestand also comes at a time when the schedule loosens up a bit. In late January, the Canes played a sequence of five games in seven nights, earning eight out of a 10 possible points (4-1-0). But rest is never a negative.
“The way our team plays – we’ve got to skate and move the puck – it helps when you have that extra energy,” Muller said. “We went through that grinding part of the schedule, but now it’s the same mentality. No secret. We’ll say give it all here tonight. We’ll have a couple days to rest again and go back at it. We should be focused and ready to play hard here tonight.”
The Jets come in to town with an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games, tying a franchise best over a 10-game stretch. Winnipeg is led by former two-time Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, who spent 920 of his 1,094 career games as an NHL head coach behind the bench for Carolina.
On the Canes bench is someone who played in 346 games for the Winnipeg franchise over five seasons: Ron Hainsey, who was signed by the Canes as a free agent in early September. Hainsey has played in all 54 games for the Hurricanes this season, and he ranks third on the team in average ice time per game at 21:09. He’s also blocked a team second-best 76 shots.
“[He’s brought] enthusiasm and some life to the room. He’s got a good personality in terms of bringing that to our room. We needed some veteran guys to bring that type of mindset,” Muller said. “He’s been slotted in the No. 3 spot since the beginning. He fits in with the way we wanted our D to be puck-moving guys. He’s been very competitive, and he’s been pretty consistent.”
Anton Khudobin will make his seventh straight start in net, which will also mark his 15th consecutive appearance in goal for the Canes since returning from an ankle injury. Khudobin is 10-4-0 since returning and 12-4-0 on the season. He holds a 2.16 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. On Monday, Khudobin was named the NHL’s first star of the month for January, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to earn player of the month honor.
“He’s colorful, and he’s got a unique personality,” Muller said when asked to describe Khudobin. “He loves to compete, and he’s been a competitor. It was great to see him get rewarded yesterday.”