One of the worst annual Hurricanes traditions is the early season extended road trip due to the heart disease factory that is the NC State Fair. Every year, in the month of October, the Canes are out of state more than Mark Sanford during an Expedia sale. Recently, the team’s performance on this road trip from hell has been a good indicator of what to expect from the team for the rest of the season. When the team plays well and posts a winning record, we usually make the playoffs. When the team sputters out of the gates and the record is marginal or substandard, we don’t. If we are going to make a playoff run, these first 9 games will be a good barometer of what our chances are. On paper, it looks to be a pretty tough road swing. Let’s take a quick look at some of the match ups.
@ Jets – This will probably be the last year that we have to face Winnilanta as a Southeast Division rival. Last season, the new look Jets had our number as we went 2-4 against them. If we’re going to make the playoffs, we’re probably going to need win the division this year. Over/Under on how long it takes for Tripp to say the words “Game of Consequence’? While my flair for the dramatic isn’t quite up to TT’s level, I will say that it is an important game. The reason for this is threefold, it’s not only a divisional game, but it’s also the first game of the season and more importantly, it’s the first game of a long road trip. It’s always best to start off on a win when you’re not going to see friendly confines for 3 weeks.
@ Canucks – The Sedins vs The Staals. Should we make a drinking game now, or wait to build the excitement up? No matter who is in net for the ‘Nucks they are a formidable opponent and of late, an annual participant in the second season. Their offense is potent and the defense is stout. This will be a good, early test for our newly formed offense. It will be the first game of the season against a top caliber NHL team. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll use Joslin on offense?
@ Ducks – The Ducks weren’t a very good team last year, finishing two points below even our woeful Hurricanes. Not a lot was done in the off season to remedy their deficiencies either. Unfortunately for us, one of the only meaningful signings they made during the off season was ex-Cane, Bryan Allen. You can bet a couple front teeth he will be trying to prove that letting him walk was a mistake.
@ Kings – I’ll probably see the ‘Canes live before the rest of you! First back to back of the season and it just so happens to be against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Perfect. The Kings will undoubtedly be better with a full Darryl Sutter training camp under their belts and they probably will have learned about the perils of not playing well early in the season. Because it’s a back to back, this will probably be the first game in which we get to see Pete-Dawg take the ice. So, we better hope for a Stanley Cup Hangover.
@ Sharks – The Sharks are a very dangerous team, especially early in the season. Their roster is virtually identical to last year’s which finished with 96 points. Over the past five years though, we have played them pretty well. With all of the firepower we’ve added on offense, there’s no need to think that it will be any different this year.
@ Bruins – Always an ice tub game. The Bruins are a big, bruising team. Although we owned Boston last season, sweeping the series, this isn’t the kind of match up you look forward to after a long road trip out west. It will be tough, it will be chippy and the trainer’s table will have a line afterwards. Luckily the next game is back in RDU.
Vs. Rangers – Finally a home game! The Rangers are probably one of the only teams that’s more stacked than the Hurricanes on offense and their defense is easily ranked in the top 3. They are early favorites for Cup contention. About the only positive I can find is that it’s the home opener. Caniac Nation is going to have to assist with this one. Get to PNC early and get amped for this game, ’cause it should be good!
Vs. Blue Jackets – Time to find out if it is possible to suck worse than last year’s Blue Jackets. The Rick Nash trade, might have improved the team in that it balances it out the a bit more. They have good depth, but no top tier players to speak of. This looks to be a really rough year in Columbus again (wanna play in Carolina now Jacky Boy?). It is truly going to be an “offense by committee” team this year. Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, both roughly 35 point scorers last season, are their best prospects of offensive production. With PNC in full throat, it should be an easy win.
@ Devils – “Defending Eastern Conference Champions” would normally be a red flag for any opponent. But, that all goes away for us when you put New Jersey Devils after those words. We own Marty, we own the Devs. Even if they hadn’t lost their Captain, who was also one of their top scorers to free agency, we probably would’ve won. Get the win and get out of Jersey as fast as possible. High, stick side boys!
I know the points aren’t as crucial as most of the opponents are in the Western Conference, but we still need to make sure we come out firing on all cylinders. A slow start could prove to be the downfall of our season once again. We certainly have made the changes necessary to ensure a winning month, but sometimes it takes awhile for teammates to gel and learn each other’s tenancies. Nothing is guaranteed.