With the Hurricanes making a move towards the future yesterday, it’s fitting that youth will be on full display for tonight’s game against the New Jersey Devils at the RBC Center.
Twenty-three-year-old Justin Peters will get his second career NHL start in goal opposite Canadian No. 1 Martin Brodeur, while 20-year-old Zach Boychuk will start in prime scoring position on a line with Brandon Sutter, himself only 20 years of age, and Tuomo Ruutu.
Peters, who has been outstanding this year in Albany of the American Hockey League, continued that trend in his big-league debut on Feb. 6 against the New York Islanders, making 34 saves in a 3-1 victory. However, Carolina coach Paul Maurice cautioned that things could be different against the Devils, who lead the Atlantic Division.
“No disrespect to the Islanders, but now you’re going to play one of the top two teams instead of one of the bottom three teams,” he said. “There will be world-class firepower on the top two lines, so I don’t imagine that (Peters) is overconfident.”
The Devils played at home last night, picking up a 5-2 win over Nashville. Ilya Kovalchuk, who was acquired from Atlanta via trade on Feb. 4, scored his fist goal with his new club, while top offensive performers Patrik Elias and Zach Parise were among those who also found the net.
Maurice seemed to have high hopes for Boychuk, who has just three assists in 11 games over four previous recalls this season, but looked much more confident in a two-game stint last week. Having played in Albany’s 5-2 defeat to Hershey last night, Boychuk was not officially recalled until this morning and was not at today’s morning skate.
”I thought his last two games, especially the first 30 minutes in Buffalo, he really skated,” said Maurice. “That is what we’ve encouraged and kind of challenged him to do. Young, skilled players have a tendency to come in and move the puck and then stand and watch it, because that’s the way the game is played at the lower levels.
”The challenge is to get a guy to continually keep his feet moving, especially not a big man who’s going to need to find open ice to be able to some of the things he’d like to do, Maurice continued. “He tried a defenseman one-on-one in Buffalo, which we encourage him to do with some of his skill.”
A pattern in recent years has seen players fresh in from Albany look very effective in their first few games, where they carry confidence and momentum they build in the minors straight into NHL action. Maurice said that the number of injuries experienced by the big club this season, combined with the likelihood of more spots opening up due to trades, have further enhanced that possibility.
“I think a couple of things have happened,” he said. “Since (Albany coach Jeff Daniels) does such a good job down there and probably because of the injuries we’ve had, probably the young players sense that they’re going to get a chance. Maybe it’s just the change in culture, but the young players that we’ve brought up and then sent back down, they didn’t go through the two-or-three-week mourning period that a lot of players do where they just go back and don’t play very well.”
In addition to Boychuk, Maurice cited Jiri Tlusty as a prime example of that. Although very happy with Tlusty’s two-way game in 18 appearances with the Hurricanes this season, Maurice had earlier expressed a desire for the player to get in more of an offensive rhythm in the minors. Tlusty had just one goal with the Hurricanes – on his first shift – but now has three in four games since his Feb. 4 reassignment.
The Hurricanes will not have defenseman Alex Picard, acquired in yesterday’s trade for Matt Cullen, in the lineup tonight. Due to immigration issues, the team is not asking him to arrive until practices resume for non-Olympians on Feb. 24.
Forward lines were predictably shifted in Cullen’s absence, with Patrick Dwyer moving to center on a line with Sergei Samsonov and Tom Kostopoulos (full lines here). Maurice said that he may also rotate Rod Brind’Amour and Stephane Yelle in that spot during tonight’s game.