The Carolina Hurricanes have a good grip on how to start a season strong and they'll try to do that again Wednesday night when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit for the opener in Raleigh, N.C.
Successful regular seasons have become the norm for the Hurricanes in recent years. They have won their past three openers -- and last year started with nine consecutive victories -- and they aim to follow that recipe again.
"I feel like we're in good shape, but we won't know until we play," coach Rod Brind'Amour said.
The Blue Jackets return 12 of their top 14 scorers from last season, and further maturation along with a few offseason moves could put them on the path for a deeper run in the playoffs.
"There's going to be competition," Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. "It's different than last year in a way that I think there's lots of guys right now that are going to be scratching and clawing for ice time to get into the lineup."
The Hurricanes have won division titles the past two seasons, but in each case then stumbled in their second playoff series.
Unlike some recent seasons when the goaltending situation appeared murky, the Hurricanes enter this campaign with Frederik Andersen clearly holding the No. 1 spot.
There will be adjustments for Carolina, particularly regarding blue-line production after a one-season stint from Tony DeAngelo, who departed via free agency. Most notably, Brent Burns joins the group and Calvin de Haan rejoins the team.
The Hurricanes have had more than a week since their last preseason game, so timing might be a concern.
"You get good practices, good discussion and all of that time with the players, but I know, obviously, we worry about being up to game speed," Brind'Amour said.
There are certainly some answered questions compared to a year ago. For instance, forward Seth Jarvis made huge contributions as a rookie last season, so his role is bound to be more defined this season.
"That was some really good hockey that I was playing and if I can continue to build on that, I'll be in for a good season," Jarvis said.
Jarvis joins a core of relatively young forwards in Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas to go with team scoring leader Sebastian Aho and veteran captain Jordan Staal.
Mixing in new players is always a concern, but Brind'Amour said physical conditioning has enabled the Hurricanes to maximize their time in training camp. Veteran center Paul Stastny is a potential impact newcomer.
"Repetition is the way to hammer things home and we want to make sure that we have covered everything that we have needed to," he said.
Columbus arrives with winger Patrik Laine, who often has caused trouble for Carolina, and free-agent signee Johnny Gaudreau likely on the same line.
"We still have to find the balance of when to shoot it and just remember to have guys in the right spots," Laine said.
The Columbus offense could receive a boost from center Kent Johnson, a 2021 first-round draft pick who made his debut late last season. Defenseman Jake Bean began his career with the Hurricanes, who made him a first-round draftee in 2016.
This will be the only home game for Carolina until Oct. 28, with a five-game western swing starting in San Jose on Friday. The team is generally on the road at this time of the year because of the North Carolina State Fair about to take place (Oct. 13-23) across the street from PNC Arena.
--Field Level Media