2010-11 NHL season preview: Carolina Hurricanes

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paulmauricecoach.jpgLast season: (35-37-10, 80 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 11th in Eastern Conference) It seems the Hurricanes alternate good seasons and bad seasons. One season they charge deep into the playoffs (or even win the Cup), the next they don’t even make the playoffs. In 2009-10, they had one of those bad seasons.

Head coach: Paul Maurice is their coach, one of those rare guys who was fired only to be re-hired by the team. If he falters, GM Jim Rutherford will be in big trouble too.

Key departures: F Rod Brind’Amour (retirement), F Ray Whitney. The Hurricanes didn’t lose a lot of players, but both guys were big parts of the team. Rod the Bod was a heart-and-soul leader and a big part of the team’s Cup-winning run while Whitney is an underrated playmaker. Both will be missed.

Key arrivals: D Joe Corvo, D Anton Babchuk, F Jeff Skinner. It’s almost as if Rutherford lacks a pro scout as he goes the nostalgia route with a lot of his moves. Corvo and Babchuk both have been to Carolina, left and came back again. Kind of like Maurice.

ericstaalsweaty.jpgUnder pressure: Don’t worry, Eric Staal. All you have to do is carry an offense full of castoffs such as Sergei Samsonov and guys who turned around their careers like Jussi Jokinen. The team depends on Staal and goalie Cam Ward to carry the load, so if they don’t succeed, neither does Carolina. No pressure there.

Protecting the house: Last season, Ward went down with an injury and his team collapsed with him. With a Stanley Cup on his resume and plenty of hockey ahead of him, he’s one of the genuine franchise goalies in the NHL. Unfortunately, the team depends too much on Ward. If he gets injured, backup Justin Peters doesn’t seem like a goalie who can handle the workload. Will they need to turn to someone like Manny Legace in desperation again this season?

Wow, that defense isn’t very good. Joni Pitkanen is a solid player who would be fantastic on a deeper blue line, but I’m not sure I’d want him to be my No. 1. Perhaps the group will be decent if promising youngster Jamie McBain improves, but I’m not very impressed by a group that includes Tim Gleason, Corvo and Babchuk.

Top line we’d like to see: Jokinen-Staal-Tuomo Ruutu. There’s an obvious drop-off from Staal to every other forward on this roster. Still, this line would include the elite talents of Staal, the crafty skills of Jokinen and the rugged play of the superior (but more injury prone) of the Ruutu brothers.

Oh captain, my captain: How could it not be Staal?

Street fighting man: The Hurricanes aren’t big fighters, but Tom Kostopoulos would be the man to throw some punches.

camwardgoalie.jpgBest-case scenario: The Hurricanes use their hard-charging style to take the second spot in the division. Staal, Ward and Cole stay healthy and play their fullest potential. Samsonov bounces back from injury problems while Jokinen keeps up the positive momentum from last season. The team makes it to the Eastern Conference finals by playing aggressive, exciting and opportunistic hockey.

Worst-case scenario: The season ends up being a mirror image of last season, with Carolina falling short of the playoffs while not getting a good enough pick to nab a high-end prospect.

Keeping it real: The Hurricanes are alarmingly dependent on their two best players, but Staal and Ward are legitimately good. The problem is that they’re no longer the only semi-competitive team other than the Capitals in their division, so getting into the playoffs by default isn’t an option any more. Expect a season on the playoff bubble for Carolina.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, Carolina deserves a 2. I almost want to say they should get a 3, but this team only went backwards this summer. They seem to work off of mojo and momentum, though, so I wouldn’t put it past them to have another Cinderella run.

Dubinsky to have hearing for cross-check on Crosby


Brandon Dubinsky and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will have a chat about his cross-check on Sidney Crosby.

The hearing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, per beat reporter Aaron Portzline.

As you can see in the above video, Dubinsky delivers a two-handed cross-check to Crosby’s neck, so the fact that he’s getting a hearing is no surprise.

“There’s no secret. I try to play him as hard as I can,” said Dubinsky. “That being said, I don’t try and do anything dirty. I felt like my stick ride up his back a little bit. He’s kind of bent over there in front. But again, that’s not the type of player I am. I’m going to play hard, but try and play fair and play in between the whistle.”

Crosby isn’t willing to give Dubinsky the benefit of the doubt.

Anyone who follows the NHL knows that Dubinsky and Crosby aren’t fans of each other.

The two have engaged in some serious battles, including this fight last February:

Report: Habs will be Price-less for the next month

Carey Price
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It looks like the Canadiens will be without star goaltender Carey Price for the next month, per RDS.

“We still don’t know what the nature of the injury is, but we’re convinced it’s his right knee,” hockey analyst François Gagnon said on a french television show on Friday. “The Canadiens are preparing for him to be out for more than a week. They’re preparing for him to be out for a month.”

Price missed nine games with a lower-body injury between Oct. 30 and Nov. 19.

The 28-year-old won all three of his starts since returning, but he was forced from Wednesday’s game against the Rangers leading some to believe he came back too soon.

After Friday’s win over the Devils, Michel Therrien denied the validity of the report.

The Canadiens will have to provide an update on Price’s injury at some point, but their camp doesn’t typically give many details when it comes to this sort of thing.

Galchenyuk scores a beauty in comeback win over Devils

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The Canadiens drafted Alex Galchenyuk to be the big, skilled center they’d been lacking for years.

Most of his first three NHL seasons were spent at left wing, but over the summer the Canadiens decided it was time to put him down the middle.

The transition to center wasn’t always smooth. Galchenyuk struggled to find the back of the net, and his line, which is supposed to be Montreal’s second line, didn’t generate a ton of offense.

But something’s clicked for Galchenyuk over the last week or so.

The 21-year-old has arguably been the Canadiens’ best forward over the last three games and that’s coincided with the arrival of Sven Andrighetto.

The two youngsters were up to their old tricks, again, on Friday night as they led the charge in Montreal’s 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Devils.

Andrighetto got Montreal on the board late in the second period when he beat Cory Schneider with a wrister that cut the deficit to 2-1.

With the Canadiens down by one in the third period, head coach Michel Therrien decided to move Galchenyuk to right wing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty.

And with under nine minutes remaining in the final frame, he stole the show:

Galchenyuk has scored in three straight games, while Andrighetto has found the back of the net in back-to-back contests.

Both players added goals in the shootout to complete the comeback over the Devils.

These two teams will face-off in Montreal on Saturday night.

Tippett wins 500th game as ‘Yotes bury Flames in overtime

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Coyotes grinded their way through the tough stretches, relied on great goaltending and won it on a big goal at the end.

Call it a Dave Tippett special.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored in overtime, Mike Smith stopped 25 shots and the Arizona Coyotes beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 Friday night for coach Tippett’s 500th career victory.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of ugly games in that 500, so it’s probably fitting that was an ugly game,” said Tippett, who has 229 wins with Arizona and the rest with Dallas.

It certainly was right out of the Tippett playbook.

The Coyotes played a solid first period and both teams scored goals in the second on caroms: Martin Hanzal early for Arizona, Mark Giordano late on a power play for Calgary.

Arizona followed with a series of penalties, but Smith was sharp for the second straight game to send this one to overtime.

The Flames had the edge early in the 3-on-3 overtime, leaving the Coyotes gasping for air. Arizona flipped the ice for the final stretch, leaving Calgary’s players winded and scrambling.

Arizona won it with 39 seconds left on the clock when Brad Richardson sent a pass from behind the goal to Ekman-Larsson, and he one-timed it past Karri Ramos.

After the game, the Coyotes handed their championship belt, awarded to the player of the game, to their low-key coach after his milestone victory.

“Coaches don’t have many milestones, but that’s a big one,” Smith said. “Players have milestones all the time, but coaches only have winning, which is all that matters, really.”

The Flames certainly had their chances to win.

Calgary had a rare power-play goal when Giordano scored his fifth of the season, but the Flames failed on five other chances with the man advantage to lose to Arizona for the first time in six games.

Ramos stopped 18 in his first loss in five career games against Arizona and the Flames lost for the first time in six 3-on-3 overtimes.

“It was a good road game,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “We played smart, we played hard, it’s just the result, we wish we could change it.”

The Flames were coming off one of their worst performances of a disappointing season, blowing an early two-goal lead and a one-goal lead in the third period for a 5-3 loss to Anaheim on Tuesday night.

The Flames went straight to Arizona, where they watched the Coyotes beat Anaheim 4-2 on Wednesday night.

They played well and so did the Coyotes in a crisp first period.

Arizona needed 29 seconds of the second to take the lead, when a sharp-angle shot by Tobias Rieder hit the far post and caromed off Hanzal into the goal.

Smith stopped 29 shots against the Ducks and was sharp again, turning away some tough chances when the Flames picked up the pressure after Hanzal’s goal.

The Coyotes took a series of penalties, though, and Giordano scored late in the period by wristing a loose puck through Smith’s legs to tie the game at 1-all. That ended a 0 for 16 streak on the power play for Calgary.

Arizona kept sending players to the penalty box in the third period. The Coyotes killed off one penalty early and were called for another 8 seconds later but killed off both to get the game to overtime.

“Obviously, we’d like to score on those power plays and grab some momentum, but we did some good things,” Flames defenseman Kris Russell said. “I thought we played a good game throughout, but at the end of the day, on special teams, we get one there, that’s the difference in the game.”

NOTES: Coyotes captain Shane Doan missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury. … The Flames entered the game 29th on the power play with eight goals in 58 chances (13.3 percent). … Calgary C Jiri Hudler returned after missing two games with an illness.