Canes hope to add more numbers

Staff writerDecember 28, 2009 

— The last thing the Carolina Hurricanes need now is good mathematicians in the locker room.

A 9-22-7 record is disappointing enough. To sit back, look at the league standings and try to do the math - let's see, it probably will take X-number of victories to reach Y-number of points to make the playoffs - can be depressing.

"It's not good, but it is where we're at," Canes forward Matt Cullen said Sunday. "So you just have to a certain extent try to bury your head in the sand, as far as that goes, and just focus on the next day and next game."

For the Canes, the next game is against the Washington Capitals tonight at the Verizon Center. The Caps lead the Eastern Conference with 54 points.

For those who are doing the math, that's 29 more than the Canes.

"If you look at the big picture, it can be a bit overwhelming with the hole we've dug ourselves," Cullen said. "All we can focus on is the next game and trying to get two points and ..."

And trying to keep hope alive?

"Exactly," Cullen said.

Canes coach Paul Maurice and his staff are doing all they can to keep the ship afloat. During the 4-3 shootout loss Saturday to the Philadelphia Flyers, Maurice made a change and had Cullen centering a line with Eric Staal on the right wing and Jussi Jokinen on the left.

Staal opened the game on a line centered by Jokinen. But the Canes' three-goal comeback in the third period was spurred by the new-look line as Jokinen scored twice with Staal and Cullen assisting on each of the two goals.

Maurice said Sunday that he intends to stick with the line against the Caps. In Sunday's practice at the RecZone, Brandon Sutter continued to center the top line with Ray Whitney and Tuomo Ruutu.

"I liked where we ended up last game," Maurice said. "Sutter with Whitney and Ruutu, I think, has put him in a position to be a little more offensive-minded.

"I liked Eric on the right side a lot. He generates a lot of what he does, even at the center-ice position, off that side of the ice. ... It allows him to use his speed. I thought when he went there he looked like the fellow that we've seen before."

Sutter has goals in each of the last two games and nine for the season in 29 games. Staal, who had started nearly every game of his NHL career at center, had the two assists against the Flyers after going without a point for three games.

"I'm willing to play wherever," Staal said. "Obviously, I just want to win. Whatever the coaching staff believes is going to help us win is what I'm going to do."

Staal will learn Wednesday whether he will be a part of Team Canada for the Vancouver Games. He was used on the wing at the Olympic orientation camp in early September and is eagerly awaiting Wednesday's announcement.

While Staal may be on the bubble, Canes goaltender Cam Ward appears to be a much longer shot to make Team Canada.

"I'm sure not getting my hopes up," Ward said Sunday. "I know it has been a tough year. I obviously will be looking [Wednesday] and keeping my fingers crossed, but by no means am I holding my breath."

Like Cullen, Ward is trying to focus on the next game. The Caps have his full attention, as they should.

Since returning from a leg laceration that sidelined him a month, Ward has been trying to regain his form and sharpness. He won games against Dallas and Florida but was roughed up Wednesday by the Montreal Canadiens and was pulled midway the first period after giving up three goals on seven shots.

The Flyers scored twice in the first period Saturday and added a third-period power-play goal, but Ward made some sparking, vintage-type saves, as well. One down-side: both Flyers shooters scored in the shootout.

"It's never fun getting pulled in the first place, much less the first 10 minutes of a hockey game," Ward said. "But it's how you deal and respond from those situations, and I wanted to come back and have a strong performance and for the most part I felt really good.

"It just continues to be frustrating with the results, but if I continue to battle and keep working hard, eventually those results will turn in our favor."

And the math may look a little better.

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

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