After notching points in each of their past four games heading into Saturday's showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning
, it appears the Carolina Hurricanes
are turning the corner and second-year center Brandon Sutter
has played a big part.
Sutter, recalled from Albany in the American Hockey League on Oct. 24, already has more goals (5) and points (9) than his rookie season of 2008-09 in 38 fewer games. At the time of his call-up, the Hurricanes were short two forwards as Erik Cole
had been placed on Injured Reserve and Tuomo Ruutu
was about to serve a three-game suspension.
"To be honest with you, I wasn't too sure what to expect," Sutter told NHL.com. "The team was kind of struggling. There was an injury and a suspension, so there was room for me on the roster. I just wanted to make the most of it. I wanted to prove that I could play here and, so far, I think I've done alright."
He's done better than alright.
Sutter has actually averaged a career-best 16:27 of ice time while centering the top line with Cole and Ray Whitney
. He saw more than 20 minutes on the ice in three of his past four games, contributing on the power-play and penalty-killing units, and has produced 2 goals and 6 points during that stretch.
"Being a young guy and in my second year and playing with Cole and Whitney the last couple of games has really helped me out because they're smart players, they've been around and know what to do out there," Sutter said. "I think when you get a chance like that, you just want to make the most of it. It's nice that (Carolina coach Paul) Maurice has had a little bit of confidence in me and has been able to throw me out there. I've just tried to have some fun with it."
In a 5-4 shootout victory Sunday against the Minnesota Wild
, which snapped the team's 14-game winless streak, Sutter had a season-high 20:59 of ice time, scored a power-play goal and notched an assist.
"Personally I've been playing well, but there are nights when you make a mistake here or a mistake there and it changes the game around," Sutter said. "I think the last five or six games, our team has played pretty well. We're just having a tough time getting wins right now, so it's a tough streak for us.
"Luckily, it's at the start of the year and we have a lot of hockey left so we just have to stay with it and, hopefully, I can help the guys out here and we can get out of it."
The Hurricanes are 2-0-2 during their past four, including two victories via the shootout.
Maurice, who noticed a more determined and fit Sutter at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in September, admitted the son of Calgary Flames
coach Brent is "not out there because we're giving a young guy a chance. He's earned it."
Sutter appreciated those remarks.
"It obviously gives you a little boost and makes you feel pretty good," he said. "You never want to be settled or satisfied with that, but I just think through the first 12 games here, (Maurice) has really given me a chance and fortunately it's gone pretty well. I just hope it continues and I'm able to prove myself. I know that I'm not done yet."
Shootout surprise --
Don't look now but the Florida Panthers
are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins
with a League-leading four shootout victories this season.
In fact, three of their past four games have been decided by shootout -- the most recent being Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings
. Florida is currently 4-3 after regulation, with all overtime games ending in the shootout. The club was 3-8 in shootouts last season.
"Last year it cost us a playoff spot,'' Florida coach Pete DeBoer said. "This year, it has really kept our head above water through a tough first 15, 16, 17 games where we really have been trying to find ourselves and our identity as a team.''
The Panthers were 1-5 in shootouts from the start of January until the end of the 2008-09 campaign and it cost the club in the end as they finished with the same amount of wins (41) and points (93) as the Montreal Canadiens
. The Canadiens earned the final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference, however, by virtue of their 3-1-0 record against the Panthers in four meetings last season.
"It's one extra point,'' Panthers forward Rostislav Olesz
told the Miami Herald. "At the end of the season, you can miss a point like this. Last year it happened.''
Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun
has yielded four shootout goals on 16 chances and is actually tied with New Jersey Devils
goalie Martin Brodeur
for most shootout wins this season with three.
"I think toward the end of last year we went into shootouts almost expecting to lose,'' DeBoer said. "I think like a lot of facets of your game, the more success you have in it, the more that confidence builds. Your goaltender is a big part of that. I think Tomas has made some big saves in order to keep us alive in the shootouts and give us a chance.''
Patience is a virtue --
When asked if winning is the cure-all for any general manager looking to succeed at his position, Atlanta's Don Waddell admitted that there's much more.
"It is more because you want to be patient with your young players," Waddell told NHL.com. "We've been tempted at times to trade young assets for ready-made players but I think patience is a critical part of our business, too. When you have good young players, you want to surround them with the right veterans, but also make sure you give them enough time to grow into the player they need to be."
With a roster consisting of 12 players 26-or-younger, including defensemen Zach Bogosian
(19) and Tobias Enstrom
(25), forwards Ilya Kovalchuk
(26), Bryan Little
(22) and Evander Kane
(18) and goalie Ondrej Pavelec
(22), patience is certainly necessary in Atlanta.
Atlanta coach John Anderson
still believes his team can be even better.
"It's one thing to do what the coaches say, but it's another to do it in a natural way, so that one- or two-tenths of a second can mean the difference between scoring a goal or blocking a shot," Anderson told The Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Little things like that. It takes a little bit of time to get hitting on all cylinders. I guess it's a lesson I learned last year as a rookie coach."
Boudreau hits milestone -- Washington Capitals
coach Bruce Boudreau
became the fastest coach to 100 victories in franchise history on Tuesday with his team's 4-2 win against the New York Rangers
at Madison Square Garden.
Boudreau accomplished the feat in Game No. 164, becoming the fourth-fastest to achieve the mark in NHL history. Entering Friday's game against Montreal, Boudreau's career mark stood 100-45-19. The only coaches to reach 100 wins faster than Boudreau are Boston's Tom Johnson
(in 138 games), Philadelphia's Mike Keenan (152 games) and Calgary's Terry Crisp
Washington forward Brooks Laich
, who played for Boudreau in Hershey in 2005-06 and has had him behind the bench in Washington the past two-plus seasons, feels Boudreau really hasn't changed much from his American Hockey League days.
"Maybe he dresses a lot better and has more suites and stuff, but as far as his approach to the game, he's still as passionate as he ever was," Laich told NHL.com. "His brain doesn't shut off hockey. He breathes, walks, talks hockey, and that's how he was when I had him in Hershey and that's how he is now. He's the most prepared coach you'll ever see -- we'll never lose a hockey game because we were underprepared.
"We do the same drills that we used to do in Hershey and he even gives the same speeches that he used to give in Hershey," Laich said with a laugh. "I know him so well I have my own Bruce Boudreau
imitation. He has a winning formula and it comes with dedication to the game and preparation."
When told of his milestone victory against the Rangers, Boudreau smiled.
"It means nothing," he said. "Hopefully I can stay in the League a little bit longer. It came with two points so that was good."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com