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Maurice still believes his Hurricanes can turn it around

Monday, 11.09.2009 / 2:42 PM / NHL Insider

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

"It's an unfortunate reason why I'm coming here, but I'm excited. This is too good a team to be struggling but weird stuff is happening -- they just aren't getting those bounces. These guys know that hard work will eventually get them to where they want to be and they just have to make their own luck."
-- Manny Legace

It can't get much worse for the Carolina Hurricanes.

One season removed from stunning the hockey world en route to the Eastern Conference Finals, the 'Canes find themselves mired in a 12-game winless streak, ranked dead last in the League in points and goals scored and 28th in goals-against.

Coach Paul Maurice is faced with the realization his 2-11-3 team must carry on without the services of injured franchise linchpins Eric Staal (upper body) and Cam Ward (left leg laceration) for the foreseeable future.

"I still believe in this team," Maurice said after Monday's practice. "We had a tough stretch back in 2003 when half our team was in the medical ward and, even though we were bringing kids up, we weren't getting any better.

"Here it's been frustrating because the last 4-5 games we don't feel we've been that far off from the game we need to be playing. Clearly, we have to be a defensive team, but, at the end of the day, we can't count on winning 1-0 every night."

The 'Canes are 0-9-1-2 in their last 12 matches, 1-5 in one-goal games and 1-2 in shootouts. It hasn't helped that Carolina also happens to be the most penalized team in the League with 301 minutes -- it was the least penalized in 2008-09 with 786 total minutes. Carolina's power-play, scoreless in its last 30 attempts, is ranked 29th in the League at 12.5 percent (9-of-72).

Ward, who signed a six-year extension with the club in September, suffered a laceration of the left leg from the skate of Columbus forward Rick Nash during the first period of Carolina's 3-2 loss on Saturday. He's expected to be out a minimum of 3-4 weeks.

"I spoke to Cam and I can tell you this is frustrating and difficult for him," Maurice said. "It's not something you can just jump right back from. He needs to cleanse himself and come back healthy."
 
In the meantime, the club signed goalie Manny Legace to a one-year contract Monday. The two-way deal will pay Legace $500,000 to play in the NHL and $105,000 to play at the American Hockey League. Legace, 36, has played in 337 career games spanning 10 seasons with three teams -- Los Angeles, Detroit and St. Louis. He most recently had a tryout with the Atlanta Thrashers in the preseason and was playing with the AHL's Chicago Wolves. In six games with the Wolves, Legace was 2-2-1-1 with a 3.21 GAA and .898 save percentage.

"It's an unfortunate reason why I'm coming here but I'm excited," Legace said. "This is too good a team to be struggling but weird stuff is happening -- they just aren't getting those bounces. These guys know that hard work will eventually get them to where they want to be and they just have to make their own luck. I've been on both ends of the spectrum of winning with Detroit and losing with St. Louis so I know what it takes to win and how to stay on top. I feel that experience is something they were looking for."

Legace is actually an original draftee of the franchise -- going in the eighth round to the Hartford Whalers in 1993. He practiced with the Hurricanes on Monday at RBC Center in preparation for the team's next scheduled game Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings. The move to sign Legace is a sign Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford isn't quite comfortable in recalling a goalie from the club's American Hockey League affiliate in Albany at this stage.

"I've known Manny as a player going back to his days in junior and he's a proven winner," Maurice said. "It would be a difficult situation bringing a goalie up from our system at this point."

Backup goalie Michael Leighton has started just one game this season -- a 6-1 loss to the Flyers on Oct. 31. For the season, he is 0-2 with a 5.11 GAA and .813 save percentage. Maurice remains non-committal on his starting goalie for Wednesday.

"It'll be a competition, as it always is," Maurice said when asked which goalie would be considered his starter. "If either of them get on a roll, you'll see them more and more. We've got lots of hockey over the next month before Cam's return so they'll be enough net for both guys. I want to get through Tuesday's practice and see how the guys are feeling before making a decision."

Maurice said Legace is in the perfect situation.

"He's been around for a while so he won't have the normal jitters of someone stepping into this type of situation," Maurice said.

Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward views the decision to sign Legace was a positive step.

"I've played with (Legace) in Detroit and played against him in the minors," Ward said. "He's the type of goalie that, no matter the circumstance, he's never out of the play. He makes acrobatic saves and has a good track record. It's comforting knowing we have two guys (Leighton and Legace) with experience capable of coming in."

Staal, who sustained an upper-body injury on Nov. 1, is expected to be sidelined another two weeks. Forward Erik Cole, who missed 10 games with a fractured bone in his left leg, is back in the lineup however. Additionally, the club's leading goal scorer, Ray Whitney, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, is expected to return on Wednesday against the Kings. If he doesn't, look for Rutherford to recall prospect Zach Boychuk from Albany.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com


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