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.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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