Canes going through changes

Carolina has benched Brind'Amour, waived Aaron Ward and Leighton and altered its lineup nightly.

Staff writerDecember 15, 2009 

— While the Carolina Hurricanes' record on their four-game road swing last week wasn't noteworthy - the Canes were 1-2-1 - the trip was eventful.

Rod Brind'Amour, the team captain, was a healthy scratch in a game. The Canes finally won a road game. Goaltender Cam Ward made his first start since having his left leg slashed.

Defenseman Tim Gleason took a puck in the face against the Washington Capitals, needed 30 stitches to close the gash and gamely returned to score a short-handed goal. Forward Jiri Tlusty, newly acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, scored on his first shift against the Caps.

And, possibly, veteran defenseman Aaron Ward may have played his last game with the Canes. Ward was placed on waivers Monday.

Some week, eh?

Brind'Amour's benching in the first road game, last Monday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, was an eye-opener. In the NHL, captains just aren't healthy extras in games, especially those with 21 years of service in the league and a Stanley Cup championship ring.

"It's a tough situation, that's about all I can say," Brind'Amour said after Monday's practice at the RecZone. "I don't want to be a distraction. It is what it is.

"Obviously it's not something I'm accustomed to or whatever. But it's a decision that they make, so ... I guess the main thing was to support my teammates and just keep working hard, and if you get another chance to get back in there and you do you best, and that's really the way I approached it."

Brind'Amour got that chance quickly. The Canes, who beat the Pens 3-2 for their first road win of the season, went into the game with 13 healthy forwards but had winger Sergei Samsonov suffer a lower-body injury.

Brind'Amour played the last three road games. In the Canes' 4-2 loss Saturday at Ottawa, he was credited with a team-high six hits.

A little extra motivation, perhaps, after being scratched?

"No," Brind'Amour said. "I prepare every [game]. That's not going to do much for that.

"I prepare every game like I'm going to play 20 minutes. If I get three or four or whatever it is, I just have to make the most of them. You always stay ready and that's kind of the way I approach it."

Veteran forward Ray Whitney, like the rest of Brind'Amour's teammates, was surprised to see him made a healthy scratch.

"You never like to see it," Whitney said Monday. "Roddy's been a big part of this organization for a long time. He's a big, big reason why we won the Stanley Cup in '06.

"He handled it as good as can be expected. He handled it like you would think he would. He just continues to go about what he does, and that's working hard regardless of the situation and being very professional about it.

"But you do feel for him for the situation's he's in."

Aaron Ward was another who helped the Canes to the '06 Cup, scoring the first goal in Carolina's 3-1 victory in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Edmonton Oilers. Ward left the Hurricanes after that season and signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers, then was traded to the Boston Bruins.

Ward, 36, returned to Carolina in an offseason trade that sent forward Patrick Eaves and a fourth-round draft pick to the Bruins, and, like many of the Canes, has struggled. In 31 games, he has a minus-15 plus/minus rating, with no goals and six assists.

Ward is in the final year of a contract that pays him $2.5 million a season. He will become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Goaltender Michael Leighton, placed on re-entry waivers Sunday by the Canes, has until today at noon in which to be claimed.

Ward quickly left Monday's practice without comment. A season in which the Canes are 7-19-6 - and 1-12-4 on the road - is quickly becoming one of transition, with the lineup changing game to game and players coming and going. And going on waivers.

The Hurricanes, who face the Dallas Stars on Wednesday at the RBC Center, did appear generally upbeat in the practice.

"Sometimes you have to put on a brave face," forward Scott Walker said. "Just because we're down right now, you can't be mentally down on the ice.

"Sometimes, when things get tough it brings out the worst in people. So you've got to let those things not creep in. We're trying to stay positive and trying to stay up as much as we can ... or the next game you'll be as bad or worse, so you have to just try and work through it."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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