NHL Preview from The Sports Network |
Thursday, October 9th
(All times eastern)
Carolina Hurricanes (0-0-0-0) at Florida Panthers (0-0-0-0), 7:30 p.m.
(Sports Network) - Two Southeast Division clubs who hope to trek up in the
standings clash tonight when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Florida
Panthers at the Office Depot Center.
After a shocking run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002, the Hurricanes
finished with the worst record in the NHL at 61 points a season ago. Injuries
took their toll early and often, the goaltending that carried it through
three playoff rounds was horribly inconsistent.
After licking its wounds, Carolina began the ensuing offseason in promising
fashion by cashing in on the high draft pick that came with a last-place
finish. The Canes selected Eric Staal with the second-overall choice, and
also pulled off a draft-day trade for Phoenix defenseman Danny Markov.
Staal was terrific during the preseason and led all NHL players with seven
goals in exhibition play. The teenager, whose style has been compared to that
of Canes captain Ron Francis, will center a line with Francis and sniper Jeff
Francis is back for yet another season and hopes to bounce back from an
injury-hampered effort that limited him to 22 goals and 35 assists in 82
games. The warrior he is, Francis did not miss a match last season despite
tearing a muscle in his back last fall. O'Neill, meanwhile, is coming off his
third consecutive 30+ goal showing.
Rod Brind'Amour, after a tremendous playoff run in '02, missed 34 games
with a hand injury but was still able to post 14 goals and 23 assists in 48
contests. His absence was immeasurable, though, because he provides so
much in every aspect of a game, from timely scoring to penalty killing.
After the drafting of Staal and acquiring of Markov, the summer continued
with an "upgrade the defense" theme, including the re-acquisition of Glen
Wesley, as well as the addition of the rock-steady Bob Boughner.
Goalie Kevin Weekes will enter the season as a clear-cut No. 1 netminder
in Raleigh, and the hope is that consistent playing time will equal consistent
performance. Weekes posted a 2.55 goals-against average and .912 save
percentage in 51 appearances last year, but he had his season irritated by
two separate stretches of injury.
Florida, meanwhile, has not made the playoffs in three years but is heading in
the right direction with a solid crew of prospects. One of those youngsters is
center Nathan Horton, who was selected right after Staal in the June Draft.
The pair played on rival clubs in the Ontario Hockey League last season and
share the same agent. Horton, more of a power forward, scored three goals in
four preseason games.
Horton will be part of a legitimate offensive nucleus that began to develop
last year, as new captain Olli Jokinen, Viktor Kozlov and Kristian
Huselius all broke out with career seasons. The team's previous high draft
pick, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, gained invaluable experience as a teenager
Last season we got to see Bouwmeester play anchor minutes, as he logged an
average of 19:46 per match. His ice time especially rose after All-Star Sandis
Ozolinsh was traded to Anaheim at the break. Bouwmeester stepped to the
challenge and, although he made some typical rookie errors, looked like a
veteran at times. The 6-4, 210-pounder played well enough to make the NHL All-
Rookie Team and has folks salivating over his potential.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo posted a career high with 20 wins last season,
and also set personal records and Panthers' marks for shots against (2,011),
saves (1,847), minutes (3,627), games played (65) and shutouts (6). In
addition, he became the Panthers' all-time shutout leader (15),
passing by John Vanbiesbrouck's 13.
Florida went 4-1 against Carolina last season and has won three straight home
10/09 10:29:37 ET