One game into the season, albeit a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, and the Canes are making some tweaks and changes -- most by design, at least one because of circumstance.
In today's practice at PNC Arena, Canes coach Kirk Muller replaced Zach Boychuk with Drayson Bowman at left wing on Eric Staal's line with Alex Semin. Jordan Staal centered a line with Jiri Tlusty and Chad LaRose, and Jussi Jokinen's line had Jeff Skinner and Pat Dwyer on the wings.
Muller said forward Zac Dalpe, who missed the practice, was sick and his availability for Tuesday's home opener against Tampa Bay wouldn't be known until the morning skate. Had Dalpe been healthy, Muller said, he would have stayed at right wing on Jordan Staal's line.
"We had a week of training camp, with no games, so it's tough to get a real feel for where guys are going to fit," Eric Staal said. "It might tweak continually now for the next couple of games. Once we get comfortable and everybody gets in the right game shape for Kirk's system, it's going to help us. We'll make adjustments as we go. I'm sure other teams are doing the same thing."
Muller said the changes were made "not in a panic way."
"It's more we knew we'd have to experiment a little here and there," he said. "Dalpe being sick ... we just played around with those numbers and positions. I liked the way Bowman was skating, his size and speed, so he was given an opportunity to play up there with Staal and Semin."
If there was any message being sent with the changes, it appeared to be with Skinner, who was inconsistent in his play in the opener and took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone that resulted in a 5-on-3 power-play score for Florida. Muller and Skinner had a fairly lengthy chat on the ice after Monday's practice.
Muller also made some changes to the power-play units after the 0-6 showing against the Panthers with a man advantage. The top PP unit had the Staals on it along with Semin and Skinner, with Joni Pitkanen the only defenseman.
Eric and Jordan Staal played together at Florida only during a 4-on-4 sequence.
"We thought we'd throw the five big guys out there together," Muller said. "We'll see how good they do together. Once we get rolling you're not going to see a lot of changes the way it is now. But it's the games where you have to tweak things until you feel comfortable."
Cam Ward will start in goal for the home opener. Ward was pulled after the first period Saturday with the Panthers leading 4-0, but Muller said he expected a strong rebound game from his veteran goalie.
Muller noted other big-name goalies around the league, including Jonathan Quick of the LA Kings and Vezina Trophy-winning Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, struggled in their first games.
"I think what's important is that he bounces back mentally," Muller said of Ward. "He rolls up the sleeves, gets ready, works through this just like the other goalies. I'm sure from his past, in the opening game here, he'll bounce back and have a good performance. I said forget about it, it's done, just focus on the (home) opener.
"I just said to Cam real quick, 'I don't have much to say to you. You're an elite goaltender, you know you had a tough game, get ready to play tomorrow.' There's a lot of guys in our lineup that had good games the other night; some had a little tough time. You just don't get exposed like you do as a goalie. He knows it. He's the first to say, 'I wasn't good' and that's OK. The key is how you respond."
Muller said there could be "possible changes" to the defensive pairings. He and the staff looked at different combinations Monday.
The fourth line Monday had Boychuk, Tim Brent, Kevin Westgarth and Jeremy Welsh rotating.
The emphasis for the Tampa Bay game is simple, Muller said: "Play harder, play smarter."