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Boucher a Bright Spot in Preseason

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes

Record-wise, the Carolina Hurricanes did not have a good preseason. But their 1-4-1 record doesn’t tell the entire story, and there are positives to glean from the exhibition season.

Michael Smith
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Despite the only win – a 36-save shutout effort from Cam Ward, none the less – coming against a light Winnipeg squad, the team isn’t down on themselves as they head into the regular season, as seen today in the hard, yet vocal 75-minute early-morning skate.

One of the clear positives of the preseason was the goaltending work of Ward and Brian Boucher. Fitting Boucher into this tandem, the handiwork of Tom Barrasso and Jim Rutherford in the offseason, might prove to be the signing of the summer.

Through two-and-a-half games in the preseason, Boucher stopped 90 of 94 shots, good for a .957 save percentage and a 1.46 goals against average. Those are numbers one would like to see a starter have, let alone a back-up.

“I think you’re more concerned with the process and how you feel physically about your game – that’s what’s important,” Boucher said. “You don’t want to harp too much on the fact that you didn’t have a winning record in the preseason, but at the same time we were trying to win those last two games, and we fell short. It’s a work in progress, and hopefully we’ll be ready for the start of the season.”

With a proven veteran back-up goalie in net, Ward will see his workload reduced this season, something that should help him be well-rested for a hopeful deep postseason run. Ward played in league-high 74 games last season; ideally, the coaching staff would like to play him in just around 60. For reference, Stanley Cup Champion and Vezina trophy winner Tim Thomas played in just 57 games in 2010-11.

“[Ward] always likes the back-to-backs because he feels stronger in the second game, and he’s not the first goaltender to say that,” Maurice said of Ward’s workload last season. “The sheer volume of them last year I think got to be a point, but what it’s going to allow us to do is to pick the right games for Cam not to play and the right games for [Boucher]. And when you put Brian in the net, you’re going in with the full confidence that you’re going to get ‘A’ goaltending.”

Having Ward and Boucher between the pipes also helped the Canes’ penalty-kill percentage in the preseason, which was second-best in the league at 91.3% (21-23).

“We changed pretty dramatically a lot of our focus on the penalty kill,” Maurice said. "I do think we have a pretty strong idea of how and where we’re pushing the puck, and I think that’s very important for what we’re doing back there.”

“I thought we did a good job of blocking shots and denying entries,” Boucher said. “I think we were strong on pucks.”

Though the penalty kill found success, their special teams wasn’t all great. The power play finished a league-worst 1-22 in the preseason. This number could very well be a by-product of the overall lack of offense that saw the team get outshot 219-157 through five games. Some of the Canes’ big names – namely Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner – were also kept off the scoresheet for the most part.

Staal recorded two assists in four games and was a minus-2. Skinner went without a point in five games and was a minus-4. In an effort to breed more offense, Maurice juggled the forward lines prior to the game in Nashville Saturday night; the new combinations saw Skinner on the first line with Staal.

“We aren’t generating as much as we will need to this season,” Maurice said. “I think part of our defense is there, but we’ve got to generate a little bit of offense 5-on-5.”

Maurice will look at the line combinations throughout the upcoming week. Also weighing on who plays with who is the injury factor, as Chad LaRose is still off the ice. Additionally, the Canes will have to cut one more skater this week to get their roster down to the maximum of 23.

“Preseason – you want to get results, but at the end of the day, it’s preseason,” Boucher said.

Friday is when it starts to count, and with a full week of practices ahead of them, the Canes should be well-prepared for opening night.

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