By Bruce Bullington
Senior Hockey Writer
After starting out 0-3-0, the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to win their final three preseason games to even their record at 3-3-0. The streak included a shutout from starting goaltender Cam Ward against the Nashville Predators on Sunday and a combined shutout from Ward and his apparent backup Micahel Leighton.
The Hurricanes still have questions surrounding who will be on their opening night roster, particularly at forward. Justin Williams was already out before camp even started after injuring his achilles tendon, Tuomo Ruutu has an injured groin that is healing slower than expected and now Scott Walker will miss the first six weeks of the season after having surgery on his right hand today.
Now Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette and general manager Jim Rutherford have some difficult choices to make. The thinking during camp was that 2007 1st round pick Brandon Sutter would be sent back to juniors after allowing him to get some experience in the preseason. However, Sutter was very impressive in the last few preseason games that there is a good chance he will stick with the team.
Another long shot who now appears to be heading towards a spot on the opening night roster is Dan LaCouture, who spent last season in Switzerland after playing for 5 NHL teams in parts of 10 NHL seasons.
Along the blueline the Hurricanes have a plethora of options that must be thinned out before opening night. Joni Pitkanen (acquired in the Erik Cole trade), Tim Gleason, and Joe Corvo were locks to fill three of the slots before camp opened. Anton Babchuk, Frank Kaberle and Dennis Seidenberg have played well enough in camp to merit cracking the top-6.
Which leaves Hurricanes veteran Niclas Wallin and offseason acquisition Josef Melichar either in the press box or in Albany. Look for Rutherford to try and move either Kaberle, Wallin or Melichar before the season starts since any of those players would continue making NHL money even if sent to the AHL.
The Hurricanes begin their season on Friday night against the Florida Panthers. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at the official Hurricanes website. The Hurricanes game with the Detroit Red Wings next Monday will feature the debut of a new 3rd jersey, which is black with the Hurricanes signature warning flag on the crest. With only two home games in October, make sure you jump on the chance to see the best pro team in the history of North Carolina in action.