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Southeast: Injury bug strikes Carolina hard

Sunday, 11.02.2008 / 12:32 AM / Division Notebooks

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

The good news for the Carolina Hurricanes is that less than 24 hours after rookie center Brandon Sutter was knocked unconscious following a hard hit from Islanders center Doug Weight, the 19-year-old rookie was being discharged from a Long Island hospital and making the return trip back to Raleigh.

The bad news is Carolina (5-2-2 entering play Saturday) has now lost 4 players to injury since training camp, including Scott Walker (hand), Frantisek Kaberle (leg), Joni Pitkanen (shoulder) and Sutter. Let's also not forget the loss of Justin Williams to an Achilles tendon tear before the start of camp.

"It's hard," Canes coach Peter Laviolette said. "When Justin went down, that was your No. 1 right wing right there. Any time you lose a player like Justin, you have an issue; then it compounds with the others. In saying that, it's just too easy to make excuses. I think when you start to do that, you rely on the injury part and then you let everybody off the hook, and you can't do that."

Pitkanen, who suffered a torn meniscus during Saturday's 4-3 victory against the Islanders, is expected to miss 3-to-4 weeks after undergoing surgery this week. Sutter, who was playing in only his seventh NHL game Saturday against the Islanders, was near his own blue line when Weight leveled him with his left shoulder. Sutter's head was down just as Weight threw the hit.

"Brandon was coming up, and the puck was bobbling," Weight said after the game. "I wanted to shoulder him, but he leaned forward at the last second and I had no way to stop."

"Dougie texted me right after the game and wanted to make sure the kid was all right," center Eric Staal told The News & Observer. "He was in one of those positions where maybe he could have gone for the puck, but chose the other. Brandon was trying to get the puck out. Dougie was kind of in one of those spots where if he doesn't go for the hit he might get beat and it could be a breakaway and a goal-against for their team. It's one of those spots where it's tough. But I think players should try to make the best decisions they can and try to protect each other."

Point well taken -- Tampa Bay rookie center Steven Stamkos is beginning to find his groove.

After posting his first NHL point -- an assist -- in Tuesday's 3-2 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft had 2 goals and an assist and was named the game's first star in a 5-2 win over Buffalo Thursday.

Stamkos tipped home a shot by captain Vinny Lecavalier at 9:51 of the first period to open the scoring against Buffalo. The goal  was announced as Lecavalier's, but later changed during the first intermission.

"That was a great feeling," Stamkos told The Tampa Tribune. "I was a little scared there when they announced Vinny on the goal. That's a big monkey off my back. To get that first point Tuesday was great and to get the first goal is even better. The confidence is there now. I know I can score at this level."

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Stamkos had about 40 family and friends in the sellout crowd of 19,348 in Toronto. He also was given an opportunity to take a few solo laps during pregame warm-ups.

"We got him before the game; letting him walk out by himself," Lightning goalie Mike Smith said. "Everyone else stopped in the tunnel and he kind of skated around by himself for a couple laps before we finally joined him."

Lecavalier, who leads the team with 5 goals and 8 points in 9 games, likes what he sees in Stamkos.

"He's playing the way he should," Lecavalier said. "He's back to playing 11-12-13 minutes. He's playing more, so he'll get more opportunities. He's doing all the right things.

"We all have pressure," said Lecavalier. "He seems to block it out. He always comes in with a smile. That's the type of guy he is. I'm not worried about him. If he was coming in with his head down, we could have these big talks, but he's always in a good mood, always upbeat and working hard."

Matthias returns -- The Florida Panthers recalled center Shawn Matthias from AHL Rochester Thursday. Matthias, who saw 7:21 of ice time in a 2-1 loss to Ottawa that night at BankAtlantic Center, was Florida's last cut out of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder centered the third line with Radek Dvorak and Rostislav Olesz. Injuries to centers Stephen Weiss (groin) and Gregory Campbell (hip flexor) prompted Florida GM Jacques Martin to make the call.

"I didn't play my best at the beginning, but I got more comfortable and I started to play more like myself, and tried to work hard to get back here," Matthias told the Sun Sentinel. "Maybe (getting sent down) had something to do with it. But you learn from that and you shouldn't take it to heart. Going through it makes you hungry to get back up here."

Matthias, who had 2 goals in 4 games with the Panthers in 2007-08, had 1 goal and 2 points in 8 games with Rochester this season.

"Shawn had a great training camp and a real good preseason," coach Peter DeBoer told floridapanthers.com. "He went down to Rochester and struggled a little down there. But I think it's good for young guys to get a taste of the minors, riding the busses. It makes you appreciate your time up here a little bit more.

"I talked to (Rochester coach) Benoit Groulx," DeBoer said. "There's no doubt (Matthias) had some disappointment about not making the Panthers out of training camp. He had a good enough preseason and training camp that he was in the mix right until the last day we had to cut down. Young guys don't always handle that the right way. From Ben's reports, (Matthias) struggled 4 (or) 5 games but he really liked the way he played the last 3, 4 games."

Sleepless nights -- Following Tuesday's 7-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Atlanta coach John Anderson decided to shake things up a bit by shuffling all 4 lines prior to Thursday's contest with the New York Rangers.

Anderson reunited Erik Christensen and Jason Williams with Ilya Kovalchuk and had Todd White with Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov, Chris Thorburn with Marty Reasoner and Colby Armstrong and Jim Slater with Eric Perrin and Brett Sterling.

"I look at the line changes as a thing that's out of my control," Christensen told NHL.com. "John is the coach and he's trying to find the right chemistry and right combinations.

"I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that, as a forward, you can score with anyone," Christensen said. "Sometimes it's an adjustment but we need something because we've been struggling lately and we've had some games where we've had problems finding the net. Sometimes change is good and, who knows, maybe it'll help."

Ward-ing off the opposition -- That intensity and focus that might have been absent from Carolina goalie Cam Ward's game last season has no doubt returned.

Ward notched his first shutout of the season Thursday in a 19-save, 1-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. He made 57 saves Saturday in a 4-3 decision over the Islanders. The 60 shots allowed by the Hurricanes against the Islanders were a franchise high and marked the first time in nearly 20 years that a team yielded 60-or-more shots and won the game.

The last time a team accomplished the feat was March 12, 1989, when current Hurricanes goaltending coach and then-Penguins netminder Tom Barrasso stopped 57 shots to lead Pittsburgh to a 6-5 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks, despite a 62-28 shot disparity. Mario Lemieux had 6 points in that game.
 
To secure the win against the Islanders, Ward stopped former Hurricane Doug Weight on a penalty shot with 0.7 seconds remaining. It was the seventh potential game-tying penalty shot in the final minute of the third period in an NHL game in the last 15 years, and, strangely, all 7 attempts have failed.

The last one before Weight's try Saturday night was by Teemu Selanne against Fredrik Norrena on Jan. 5, 2007.

 
 
For the season, Ward is 3-1-2 with a 2.45 GAA and .923 save percentage. The former Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie has allowed just five goals on 104 shots during his past three starts.

Book it -- Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau has signed a deal with Potomac Books, Inc. to publish his autobiography.

The book, co-written with Tim Leone of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., is scheduled for release in October 2009. It will chronicle Boudreau's playing and coaching career and his rise to the Capitals after more than 3 decades in the minor leagues. Boudreau guided Washington from last place to the Southeast Division championship in 2007-08 and won the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year.

The week ahead -- There are 2 Southeast Division matchups on the docket this week.

The Florida Panthers visit Philips Arena to face the Atlanta Thrashers today  and the Carolina Hurricanes are at Verizon Center to meet the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

Florida at Atlanta -- Atlanta Thrashers rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian didn't return to the ice after Philadelphia's Darroll Powe slammed him into the boards midway through the second period of the Flyers' 7-0 victory Tuesday night. It was confirmed on Thursday that the N o. 3 selection in the 2008 NHL Draft has a broken left fibula that won't require surgery. He'll be sidelined at least 4-to-5 weeks.

"The injury to Zach is a great opportunity for Nathan Oystrick to show what he can do," Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "He's waited patiently and has actually played well when given the chance."

Florida defenseman Bryan McCabe, out since Oct. 10 with a back injury, skated with the team Thursday morning and is optimistic he'll return to the lineup in time for the club's West Coast trip to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Anaheim this week.

"I've got to get my lungs and legs back," McCabe told the Sun Sentinel.

Carolina at Washington -- The Capitals closed out the month with their best October winning percentage (5-3-1, .555) in 11 years since the Stanley Cup Final team of 1997-98. The big news out of Washington camp this week was the absence of Alex Ovechkin, who traveled back to his native Russia to be with his ailing 83-year-old grandfather. The positive news is that defenseman Tom Poti, who was injured Oct. 16 in Pittsburgh, skated Thursday. According to Poti, his 2-week recovery has been the longest he's been sidelined in his 10-year career.

Carolina ended a 6-game road trip Thursday with a 1-0 victory against St. Louis. The Canes' finished the trip 3-1-2 and actually moved ahead of the Capitals by a point to take over first place in the Southeast.

"It was a real good way to end it," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette told the News Observer. "You can always look back and say there were some points we left on the table, but we dealt with a lot, the travel, the injuries and everything else."

Friday, the Hurricanes signed free agent forward Michael Ryan to a 1-year contract. Ryan, who'll be assigned to Albany, spent the past 2 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres. The Boston, Mass., native was originally drafted by the Dallas Stars in the second round (No. 32) in 1999. He has totaled 13 points (7g, 6a) and 32 penalty minutes in 65 career NHL games, all with the Sabres.

Quote of the Week -- When asked why Vinny Prospal was taken off the top line for Monday's practice and Tuesday's morning skate, Tampa Bay coach Barry Melrose had this response:

"Dr. Frankenstein, baby," he told the St. Petersburg Times. "I'm experimenting. And you're trying to wake guys up, too. Just because I took Vinny off doesn't mean I was trying to wake Prospal up. Sometimes it's the other way around, too."

Prospal was actually reunited with Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis against Toronto on Tuesday.

Ice chips -- Sergei Fedorov scored two goals in Saturday night's overtime victory at Dallas, passing Alexander Mogilny for the NHL record for goals by a Russian-born player with 475. Since joining Washington in a deadline-day trade last February, Fedorov has played both center and defense. He owns a team-best plus-7 rating while posting 8 points in 9 games this season. "It was nice on a personal level but most important obviously, we finally won a game," Fedorov said. ... Ottawa defensemen Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard returned Saturday to the St. Pete Times Forum to renew acquaintances with their former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kuba and Picard were traded by Tampa in exchange for defenseman Andrej Meszaros. Kuba has 11 points -- all assists -- in 10 games. Prior to the August trade, Meszaros had played in 246 with the Senators to start his career. ... Tampa Bay goalies Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig have worn goalie masks designed and painted with themes from the SAW movie franchise and both game-worn masks are currently up for auction. ... Lightning right wing Radim Vrbata, who injured his groin Oct. 22, has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to last week and is eligible to return when he's cleared.

The Capitals will honor the men and women who serve or have served in the U.S. military with a pair of initiatives at their game Nov. 10 -- the day before Veterans Day -- at Verizon Center against the Tampa Bay Lightning. All current and former members of the military with a military ID will be eligible to purchase special "Military Rush" tickets the day of the game. Military Rush will allow fans with a U.S. military ID to purchase upper-level seats for $15 and lower level seats for $35. Military Rush tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. only at the Verizon Center box office. Check washingtoncaps.com the day of the game for availability.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.


Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie