Carolina opens preseason camp with focus on making playoffs
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) To finally make the playoffs again, the Carolina Hurricanes know they need a strong start to the season.
That sense of urgency was in the air at their first practice.
''It all starts right now,'' center Andrej Nestrasil said Friday.
The Hurricanes began preseason camp with a focus on ending the season much later than they usually do: Carolina hasn't made the playoffs since 2009, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference.
''The results show that we're heading in the right direction, and I feel like we have a good enough team to make the playoffs this year,'' Nestrasil said. ''The thing last year is, we didn't start on time ... so if we can start on time this year, it'd be awesome.''
Not surprisingly, the emphasis on the first day of training camp was speed - with pucks and skaters zipping around the ice in what forward Jordan Staal called ''crispy'' play as opposed to past first practices that he described as ''clunky.''
The Hurricanes hope that will continue to apply once they start playing games that count, beginning with the opener Oct. 13 at Winnipeg.
In recent years, it hasn't - and it's a major reason why they've missed seven straight postseasons. Carolina won just eight of its first 25 games in 2015-16, and the year before was just 10-23-4 in the first three months.
And while last year's group staged a late push for the postseason - earning points in 12 of the 14 games after the trade deadline - the hole created by those early-season struggles ultimately was too much to overcome. Carolina finished in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division with 86 points, 10 points behind the Philadelphia team that claimed the No. 8 seed in the East.
''We've really been doomed by our starts,'' defenseman Ron Hainsey said. ''At least the last two years in a row, where we were in a position come Jan. 1 to make up a lot of ground ... where the ground you have to make up, it's really kind of unrealistic to make it up.
''It's a small line, and really, the first two months of the season can set up the last four months, depending on how it goes,'' he added. ''So it's important that everybody's ready to go.''
Perhaps nobody was more ready to go than Nestrasil, who missed the final two months of last season after breaking a vertebra in his back in February. He was the only player in a yellow, no-contact jersey during practice but said he hopes to shed that for a regular jersey soon.
''To be honest, I'm not even excited anymore - I just want to get it out of the way,'' Nestrasil said with a laugh. ''This has been such a long process, and I've been waiting for such a long time that I just want to play games and I just want to get into it.''
Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joedy-mccreary