|The Carolina Hurricanes lost more than just a game Dec. 21, they lost one of their leading scorers, Justin Williams.|
Williams tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the first period of a 5-4 loss to the Panthers. According to General Manager Jim Rutherford, Williams will have reconstructive surgery on the knee and will miss at least four months.
Williams' offense, durability and versatility will be tough to replace. Before he got injured, Williams, who led the team in goals last season (33), was second on the squad in assists (21), third in average ice time (19:43) and shots (104), and fifth in goals with nine. The Carolina forward also contributed two goals and six assists for eight power-play points and played 205 consecutive regular-season games dating back to March 27, 2004.
"It's tough to replace a guy like Willy (Williams)," 'Canes defenseman Mike Commodore said. "He brings a lot to our team – penalty kill, power play, even strength. He's responsible in both ends. Plain and simple, he's an All-Star and those guys are tough to replace."
The injury to Williams could make a major impact in the tight Southeast Division. Only a handful of points separate first-place Carolina and the Atlanta Thrashers. The Florida Panthers are in second, the Tampa Bay Lightning are eight points back in fourth, and the Washington Capitals are one point behind the Lightning.
"When you lose a guy like Will, you're never going to be able to replace him, but you have to step up," Ladd said. "Me and some other guys on the team are going to be expected to help out and contribute."
Ladd posted goals in consecutive games against division opponents before the holiday break. Ladd, 21, missed 16 games this season with an ankle injury suffered Oct. 6 at Washington. He returned Dec. 16 after an AHL conditioning stint.
"They weren't getting what they wanted out of me up here,” Ladd said. “I wasn't playing that much. It was probably better off for me to go down and get a little more ice time and get my confidence back and then come back up. It was fun being able to play lots of minutes.”
Ladd and Nolan, who were called up Dec. 22 after Williams' injury, will get their share of minutes to show what they can do.
Nolan earned his call-up by scoring 22 points in 29 games for the Albany River Rats and led the team in goals (11) and ranked second in points. Not bad for a player signed as a free agent July 2.
"I'm not going to come in and fill Williams’ spot," Nolan said. "He gets 25-30 goals every year. I'm just trying to bring energy and be a physical presence."
Nolan, the son of New York Islanders coach Ted Nolan, made his presence felt in his NHL debut last Saturday night in Tampa in a 5-4 win against the Lightning. The rookie assisted on Ladd’s first-period tally, which tied the score, 1-1.
The Carolina coaching staff doesn't want to put pressure Ladd and Nolan too much, but they hope the two youngsters can produce in the absence of Williams and Chad LaRose – sidelined with a concussion Dec. 18 in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"There's a bit of pressure because you want to play well and stay here,” Nolan said. “I'm just trying to play my game the way I was playing in the AHL and hopefully that will allow me to stay up here."
Nolan became the second player this season, and No. 15 in NHL history, to play in the NHL during the same season his father coached in the League. Los Angeles Kings forward Brady Murray, son of St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray, is the only other active player whose father is coaching in the NHL.
Who's hot –Carolina's Scott Walker and Eric Staal each have five points in their last five games. Both forwards have identical numbers during the stretch, posting three goals and two assists in the team's three wins and two losses. … Atlanta's Mark Recchi tallied eight points (four goals and four assists) in his first eight games with the Thrashers, registering a five-game point-scoring streak with six points (two goals and four assists) during that span. … Washington's Alexander Semin has points in four of his last five games (three goals and one assist), including points in four straight contests from Dec. 15-22. … Tampa forward Vincent Lecavalier has six goals and four assists for 10 points in his last seven games. Lecavalier has 21 multi-point games in the team's first 37 contests this season. … Florida's Jozef Stumpel, Stephen Weiss and Radek Dvorak have been regular contributors for the Panthers. Stumpel has tallied a goal in two of the his last three games, Dvorak scored two goals and added an assist in his last five and Weiss has potted four goals, including three game-winners, in his last eight games.
Southeast Quotes – "It's a great reward for me. I wonder what other title I can have because every time it seems to work for a win. It was fabulous."
-- Bruce Boudreau said after having the "interim" tag removed from his title as head coach of the Capitals.
"Everybody says; 'Don't panic. Don't panic.' There had better be some panic going on within this club to get this turned around, or it's going to spiral to where you have no luck at all."
-- Tampa Bay head coach John Tortorella said after the Lightning blew a 2-1 lead Wednesday against the Washington Capitals, which resulted in a 3-2 loss – the team's fifth loss in six games.
A look ahead –Friday, Dec. 28, the Hurricanes host the Boston Bruins, while the Montreal Canadiens travel to Florida. Saturday Dec. 29 the Lightning host the Flyers, the Capitals travel to Ottawa, the 'Canes head to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets and the Thrashers host the Bruins. Sunday Dec. 30, the Flyers are in Florida. Monday Dec. 31, the Thrashers visit Boston, while the Hurricanes host the New York Islanders.