McBain fits with Canes

Carolina defenseman making an easy transition to NHL game

Staff writerMarch 20, 2010 

— Few had a better view of Ray Whitney's winner than defenseman Jamie McBain. He also had a hand in it.

With the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals locked up in overtime Thursday at the RBC Center, McBain got the puck to Eric Staal in the Caps' zone. Staal then passed to Whitney, who curled into the slot and found himself alone with two defensemen shading Staal.

Whitney shot and scored. Game over. The Canes won 4-3 and McBain had another NHL first: an assist on a winning goal.

In his first two NHL games since being called up from Albany of the AHL, McBain has two assists. Against the Caps, the Eastern Conference leaders, he had 25:29 in ice time - second only to Joni Pitkanen's 29:28 - and blocked three shots.

Talk about a quick initiation. McBain, 22, played against the Boston Bruins and then the Caps. Today, it will be the Pittsburgh Penguins in his first NHL road game.

Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

"In the first game the jitters are kicking in and you're just trying to keep everything simple and try not to make too many mistakes out there," McBain said Friday. "You're just trying to take in everything in that first game and just enjoy it, so maybe the game's not quite what you'd like it to be."

Not a 5-2 loss. That's not what McBain wanted in his NHL debut.

"But then in the second game, being settled and being around the guys a little bit more, I felt more comfortable," he said. "I felt a lot better."

Stepping up

McBain was recalled after defenseman Tim Gleason broke a bone in his right foot last Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes. Gleason fought the pain and played Tuesday against the Bruins, but now will be sidelined for three weeks.

The Canes dressed seven defensemen for the Boston game. But with Gleason out and then Alex Picard suffering an upper-body injury during Thursday's game, Carolina was down to five defensemen for the third period and overtime.

But everyone did their part on the back end. Brett Carson scored his second goal of the season in the third. McBain moved the puck well. Jay Harrison was solid. Pitkanen and Brian Pothier, the veterans, steadied the group.

Canes coach Paul Maurice said Friday that Picard's status was "week-to-week." Bryan Rodney has been recalled from the Rats.

Plays like an old pro

McBain was the Canes' second-round draft pick in 2006 and opted to play three years at Wisconsin. A finalist last season for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's version of the Heisman Trophy, he's in his first full year of professional hockey.

"He's incredibly poised for a young defenseman," said Harrison, who spent part of this season in Albany. "He's a very mature young man. He controls the puck, he controls the play and he's not intimidated by older guys or playing against the other team's top line."

McBain has been tagged as an offensive-minded defenseman, and was second among the Rats with 40 points (7 goals, 33 assists). But Maurice said the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Edina, Minn., also has been impressive with the consistency of his passing.

"He hits the tape out in practice and in the games with a high frequency," Maurice said. "In a game you can't do that unless you have your head up, and there has to be some confidence with your puck-moving.

"This game is so much faster than the American League that normally for defensemen the first thing they have to adjust to is the pace. Beside the size and the speed, it's the pace they do things at. So you often see them not confident with the puck ... but he hasn't had an issue with that."

Immediate impact

In his debut against the Bruins, McBain earned his first NHL point with a blast from the high slot. The shot was blocked but Erik Cole knocked in the rebound and McBain was on the score sheet with an assist.

The Caps' Alex Ovechkin was serving out a two-game suspension and did not play Thursday, but McBain had to deal with such dangerous types as Alexander Semin and Niklas Backstrom. Today, it will be Sidney Crosby and the Pens.

"It will be a great test because Pittsburgh has a real good mesh of high-end talent with a real workmanlike ethic," Maurice said. "They're going to dump a lot of pucks and get on it very quick and be physical, and if you're a half-second late getting that pass off they're going to knock it down. So it will be a good challenge for him."

That's fine with McBain.

"That's what you want," he said. "You want to come up here and play against the best players.

"[The Pens] have the guys you see on TV and always wanted to play against one day. This will be that day. Hopefully I'll have another good game."

And have a hand in another victory.

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

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