Carolina Hurricanes

Strong effort should build confidence

Opening night is still 11 days away, but the Carolina Hurricanes needed this. Win or lose, they needed to play the way they know they can play. They needed to play the way they have to play.

The Hurricanes may not have scored as many goals as they could have in Sunday's 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers -- and they may have lost two more players along the way -- but the win offered the positive reinforcement lacking in the Canes' three losses to open the exhibition season.

"I don't think the win-loss record matters," said Hurricanes center Eric Staal, who saw his first action of the preseason. "It's the feeling. Even if we'd given up a fluke [goal] late or gone to a shootout, we were playing our style of game."

Even if you believe preseason hockey is essentially meaningless (and for the most part it probably is), under Peter Laviolette the preseason has served as a reasonably accurate predictor of what's to come.

The Canes went 5-3-1 in 2005 and opened the season on a 14-3-1 run. A year later, the hungover heroes went 1-4-0 in the preseason and were in crisis three games into the season. Then a 4-1-1 September in 2007 led to a 7-3-3 October.

Which brings us to the fall of 2008, when the Canes lost their first three games by a combined 13-5 score before playing their best hockey of the preseason Sunday.

Michael Leighton was solid in net. Thirteen of the 20 players on the ice for Carolina are likely to be there on opening night. Staal and Sergei Samsonov stood out about the crowd, as well they should.

Meanwhile, the injuries continue to mount, with Matt Cullen and Josef Melichar the latest to fall.

Cullen returned to the game after a hit by Philadelphia's Nate Guenin, but he didn't make it out of the first period. The Canes called Cullen's absence "precautionary," but the Canes also say he didn't suffer two concussions last season.

There was no doubt about what happened to Melichar. He took a puck in the face early in the third period and left bleeding profusely, but he did return.

Their injuries served as a reminder that sometimes preseason does matter, particularly for a team desperately needing to get off to a good start and searching for a sign it's moving in the right direction.

"Even though it is preseason, we needed a win," forward Chad LaRose said. "We need to get the wins under our belt and get the confidence in the room."

We've heard all summer how the Canes have treated the disease that plagued them the past two seasons, with a remodeled defense and younger group of forwards. Until Sunday, the symptoms weren't changing. In his first two starts, Cam Ward stopped only two of the first seven shots. The special teams were awful, the effort inconsistent, turnovers rampant.

The Canes weren't exorcising the demons of last season. They were indulging them.

That changed Sunday, particularly with the Samsonov-Staal-Patrick Eaves line in the lineup and looking potent.

"I mentioned to a few of the guys in the room," Staal said. "The key to our game is skating, and in the first period we were skating and attacking. When one line does it, it filters down and everyone's jumping. That's our style of game and we did that tonight."

Admittedly, it's far too easy to read too much into preseason hockey. That's particularly true for the first four exhibition games, when rosters are filled with only a smattering of veterans. The final two, with the roster down to only a handful of extra players, should be a better barometer.

For the Canes, that starts Thursday against the Predators in Nashville. All they have to do is play the way they did Sunday.

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