Sutter, Ward Lead ‘Canes Over Thrashers

RALEIGH—On a rare weekday afternoon matchup, the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Atlanta Thrashers today by a score of 2-1.

After the announcement that Brandon Sutter would be named one of the Hurricanes alternate captains, many wondered if it was the right move. With Sutter being so young and inexperienced, critics argued that he would not be able to lead this team as well as others on the current roster.

If today’s game was any indication, these critics were wrong.

As I previously pointed out in yesterday’s article, Sutter will need to lead this team by example. With a freshly stitched “A” on his jersey, the young forward scored both Carolina’s goals today.

So far, he’s off to a good start.

At the 15:13 mark of the second period, Sutter tipped home a Joe Corvo wrist shot to put the Hurricanes up 1-0. This score stood until the end of the third period.

Well, almost until the end.

With 1:03 remaining in regulation, Nik Antropov tied the game 1-1 with a slick wrist shot over Cam Ward’s shoulder.  While it was disappointing to blow a lead this late, it did not stop the Hurricanes from persevering.

Just 1:06 into overtime, Jamie McBain carried the puck into the offensive zone and fed a beautiful saucer pass to Erik Cole across the ice. Cole found an opening and sent the puck back across the rink to Sutter, who scored on a wide open net.

Even after being honored as the first star of the game, Sutter remained modest.

“I had a couple (of) lucky bounces today. Hopefully I can try to keep it going,” said Sutter.

Not to be overlooked, Ward played extremely well this afternoon. Throughout the game, the ‘Canes netminder remained in good position, and came up big when the team needed him most. Evander Kane, one of Atlanta’s up and coming forwards, had five point-blank chances on goal today, and Ward stopped all of them.

Along with a fundamentally sound performance, Ward made several highlight reel saves, including a sprawling stop on Bryan Little. After a rebound fell right in front of the crease, Little quickly shot the puck towards what looked like an empty net. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Ward dove across the crease and snared the puck with his glove.

“I feel really comfortable out there. I felt like I was controlling my rebounds the best I could to make things easier for the guys in front of me,” Ward said. “Every day it keeps on getting better and better.”

Another Hurricane who did well today was McBain. The 2006 second round pick displayed a powerful yet accurate shot from the point both at even strength and on the man advantage, leading the team with five shots on goal. Along with his slap shot, McBain exhibited remarkable passing ability.

During breakouts, McBain was able to find the open forward up the ice to lead the rush. On the power-play, he calmly dished the puck around to his teammates to maintain possession and create scoring chances.

McBain credits a full offseason with the Hurricanes to his progression as a hockey player.

“When I came up I was given the opportunity to play a lot of minutes,” McBain said about taking on more responsibility this season. “I hope that I can do more this year to help bring the team back to the playoffs.”

Jeff Skinner, this year’s first round draft pick, registered two shots on goal and skated hard at both ends of the ice. While he failed to get on the stat sheet, the 18 year-old center was able to keep pace with the rest of the players on the ice. After the game, Skinner credited his teammates for helping him get through his first preseason in the NHL.

“These guys in this locker room have helped me learn what it takes to play at this level,” Skinner said. “There’s been a learning curve, but my teammates make the whole process a lot easier.” Head Coach Paul Maurice believes that Skinner is progressing well.

“My first look at (Skinner) was in the prospects camp (in Traverse City), and he’s very close to doing the exact same things at this level that he was doing there,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “He’s a very, very good player.”

Inside look: Penalty kill

The Hurricanes penalty kill today was superb. The difference between a good PK unit and a great one is effort. Not only was the coaching staff’s system executed properly, the ‘Canes gave 110% each time they were down a man. Rarely was a forward given any room to skate, as Carolina’s penalty kill completely suffocated Atlanta’s attack. Forwards and defensemen alike cleared the puck with ease.

The ‘Canes went 3-for-3 in killing penalties throughout the game.

Inside look: Power play

While the ‘Canes scored a goal today on the man advantage, their power play unit did not play up to par. The problem was not creating scoring chances; it was finishing them.

Every time a Thrasher sat in the penalty box, Carolina came out in full force. They established puck possession in the offensive zone, they found wide open shots, and got the puck to the slot. Executing was the issue. While the ‘Canes did a good job getting pucks to the slot, too many quality scoring opportunities were squandered.

Hurricanes Fans Enjoy Free Admission

The ‘Canes held a special promotion for today’s preseason game, making every ticket free of charge. I caught up with a few fans before the game to discuss this special occasion.

George Page, a Hurricanes fan from Cary, North Carolina, skipped out on work to attend the 1:30 p.m. game.

“I called in sick today. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch NHL hockey for free,” he said. “Just don’t tell my boss.”

Patricia Horner, a lifetime hockey fan originally from New York City, brought along two of her grandsons to attend today’s matchup.

“They’re only in preschool, so missing one day won’t matter too much,” she said as the two boys battled for a puck in a game of street hockey in the RBC Center parking lot. “More importantly, I’m educating them on the game of hockey.”

The announced attendance for today’s game was 15,787. There was a level of electricity in the arena that is hard to find during the preseason, and the Hurricanes took notice.

“It started with the crowd,” said Maurice. “It was such a great crowd for an exhibition game.”

Off to Russia

After today’s game, Carolina’s locker room was filled with travel bags. The Hurricanes travel to Russia tonight, as they prepare to face SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League on Monday at 11 a.m.

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