Carolina Hurricanes defensemen Anton Babchuk and Joni Pitkanen, a pair of 2002 first-round draft picks by other NHL teams, have never played better in their short careers.NEWARK --
Coach Paul Maurice credits assistant coach Tom Rowe for their development and General Manager Jim Rutherford for the inspiration in pairing them. Babchuk came to Carolina in a 2006 trade and this is his first full NHL season. He led the Carolina defense with 16 goals and is second with 35 points. Pitkanen, acquired from Edmonton in a July 1, 2008 trade for Erik Cole, has played five full NHL seasons and led the Hurricanes' defense with 26 assists and 24:48 minutes of average ice time.
They are a fearsome combination with their powerful point shots on the Carolina power play and there was a lot of talk about them in the Devils' dressing room Wednesday morning.
"Tom has done an exceptional job with them of finding the line between 'squeezing' and understanding that they have uniquenesses in their game," Maurice said. "Joni has a lot of motion in his game and 'Babs' has got a big shot. He competes hard, but doesn't move around the ice like Joni does. They are a good pair. We resisted putting them together and Jim Rutherford said try it. Their first three shifts they gave up three chances, but then chemistry built between them and they've been good."
The Hurricanes put the whole team on the ice for about 30 minutes, but it was a relaxed affair addressing no specific needs. The Hurricanes lines, LW-C-RW, are Tuomo Ruutu-Eric Staal-Erik Cole; Ray Whitney-Jussi Jokinen-Chad LaRose; Sergei Samsonov-Rod Brind'Amour-Scott Walker, and Tim Conboy-Matt Cullen-Patrick Eaves. The defense pairings are Tim Gleason-Joe Corvo; Joni Pitkanen-Anton Babchuk, and Nik Wallin-Dennis Seidenberg.
Devils stay put -- If you're expecting New Jersey Devils coach Brent Sutter to tinker with his lines heading into Wednesday night's Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, think again.
As expected, veteran forward Bobby Holik will not dress. The main reason is because Holik can only play center or right wing, while Brian Rolston is more versatile. Rolston will center a line with Mike Rupp on the left and David Clarkson on the right.
"Who are we going to take out?" Sutter responded when asked why Holik won't be in the lineup. "Rolston's played well at center ice and Clarkson's played well on the right side with him. Bobby's got to play center or right wing, and right now it's a numbers thing with him. There's no reason but that. Things could change a lot from game to game. We feel this is the best lineup to start Game 1 with."
The Devils had an optional skate and only a few players participated and even then, not for long. The Devils are expected to skate the following lines, Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner; Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus-Brian Gionta; Jay Pandolfo-John Madden-Brendan Shanahan, and Mike Rupp-Brian Rolston-David Clarkson. The defense pairings are Johnny Oduya-Paul Martin; Colin White-Mike Mottau; and Bryce Salvador-Niclas Havelid.
-- Brian Compton