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Gameday: Canes vs. Washington

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
It’s a match-up of the Eastern Conference’s best and worst records tonight as the Hurricanes host the Washington Capitals tonight – the first meeting of the season between division rivals.

Paul Branecky
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A team as powerful as Washington isn’t exactly what the Canes hoped to see after building a four-game losing streak over the last week, but if this season has been any indication, the team can’t get too concerned with the quality of the opposition.

Coach Paul Maurice even suggested that a game against one of the NHL’s best could actually force the Hurricanes to rise to the occasion and play the game that they’ve played in the first two periods of their last two games for an entire 60 minutes.

“A healthy amount of respect for the other team is important,” said Maurice. “We seem to skate better sometimes out of fear, and that’s a good thing. If you give this team enough room on the ice, they’re going to make you look bad.”

Maurice said that goaltender Michael Leighton will make his second consecutive start against the Capitals. Leighton made 15 saves in the first two periods of the Buffalo game before falling victim to the Hurricanes’ second five-goal third-period collapse in as many games. Prior to the Atlanta game on Friday, the franchise had not allowed five in a third period since 1992.

“I actually liked his game, [except] the fifth one, but that was the fifth one,” said Maurice of Leighton. “He lost his stick on it and probably would like to have it back, and on two of those deflections you can’t really fault your goaltender a whole lot.”

The Hurricanes should have a larger-scale goaltending decision to make relatively soon. Cam Ward worked with Assistant Coach Tom Barrasso prior to today’s morning skate (paparazzi BlackBerry photo to the right), and his original target date of December 5 is just five days away. If Ward is able to return, the Canes are unlikely to carry both Leighton and Manny Legace on the roster.

Although Chad LaRose did not skate today, Joni Pitkanen participated in the full session and should play tonight following two games on the sideline with an upper-body injury, as the Hurricanes reassigned fill-in Bryan Rodney to Albany following the skate. Scott Walker also skated, albeit not on a regular line, making his return more doubtful. Full lines from today are here.

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