No one could accuse Brandon Sutter
of being a dirty player. Still, despite how hard he plays the game each and every night, his squeaky-clean record is very surprising.
If he can muster up at least two more goals in the final eight games of the season, Sutter would become the first player to score 20 goals while accumulating just two penalty minutes in 10 years. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Sergei Berezin last accomplished that feat during the 1999-00 season.
Perhaps unfortunately for Sutter, that type of effort is the stuff the dreaded Lady Byng Trophy, given each year to the league’s most sportsmanlike player, is made of.
”I’m going to start slashing everyone now,” said the 21-year-old, shaking his head when told for the first time of his impending accomplishment.
Sutter’s only infraction of the year was a minor penalty for hooking. Even while being put on the spot, he remembered it immediately.
”Yep, it happened in Florida,” he said.
On December 18, to be exact. Forty-one games ago.
Occasionally, being able to vividly remember such a routine play as the only crime committed in a long season could sound alarm bells that a player isn’t competing hard enough. Clearly, that’s not the case with Sutter.
”It’s not a two-penalty-minute season because he doesn’t go into the dark areas and never hits anybody,” said coach Paul Maurice. “He’s very, very smart and does everything with his stick on the ice, and because he’s so smart his body position is always good and he’s not reaching in from behind.
”He’s willing to go in and battle, while a lot of guys who are in the under-20 category don’t get near a lot of people to take penalties. His game is not like that, and he’s just a real smart guy with his stick.”
Sutter’s clean record comes despite the fact that he routinely goes up against some of the opposition’s best players on a nightly basis. His discipline is also helpful covering up the sins of his teammates, as he plays a regular role on the penalty kill.
“Obviously you don’t want to be in the box all night,” he said. “You just want to be smart, and usually there’s stuff after whistles where you take your penalties for roughing and stuff like that, but I just haven’t taken any penalties.”
Earlier in his career, Sutter was a regular goon by comparison. He picked up two fighting majors during his rookie season, which accounted for 10 of his 16 penalty minutes. He also posted a career high 54 in 2006-07 during his second full year of junior hockey in Red Deer.
”I definitely had more in junior,” he said, defending his street cred.
All kidding aside, the Hurricanes are a much better team with Sutter on the ice and out of the penalty box. His improvement from this season compared to last has been striking to the point that he’s undoubtedly ahead of schedule on his development and possibly ahead of the team’s already-lofty long-term projections.
”It’s not just a good player and then in four or five years when he develops he’s going to be an impact player for the Hurricanes,” said Maurice. “He is now, and there’s nothing to his game to suggest that he’s been lucky in doing it.
“With Sutter and Staal, we’ve got a good combination and one-two punch that can allow you to do some things as a coach in terms of line match-ups to get Staal away from the other team’s best at times and still score the goals.”
Ward coming back
The Hurricanes’ reassignment of Justin Peters today has paved the way for Cam Ward to return to the team in a backup role for Saturday’s home game against Atlanta. Manny Legace is still expected to earn the start in that game, but if all goes well, Maurice said he is planning to start Ward in Atlanta on Monday.
Peters’ return will be a welcome one for the Albany River Rats, who have also been struggling with injuries at the goaltending position as they attempt to solidify their hold on a playoff spot. Justin Pogge and Mike Murphy, both under contract with Carolina, have been out for the last several weeks.