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Two-Goal Start for Sutter, Productive Youth (and No Injuries!) All Good Signs for Carolina

He’s not the youngest player on the roster, nor would he be considered a shocking contributor after last season’s 21-goal, 40-point showing but Brandon Sutter is most certainly a key piece to any Carolina Hurricanes success this year and his two-goal performance in Thursday’s season-opening, 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki, Finland is an excellent early sign for a club hoping for a lot to go their way in 2010-11.

For the Hurricanes, banking on both young guns and sustained health and rejuvenation for several veterans who were hobbled last year, a player like Sutter, at 21, serving as an alternate captain and coming off of a breakthrough season a year ago, will play a major role in determining their fortune. So far, so good for Sutter, who played just six seconds less yesterday than Carolina captain Eric Staal and so far, so good for the ‘Canes, who dressed six players 25-and-under in the game and got production from Sutter (two goals), Zac Dalpe (assist) and Jamie McBain (assist), as well as sparkling reviews for 18-year-old forward Jeff Skinner from that group.

Cam Ward held the fort in net, turning aside 26 of 29 Minnesota shots for his first win of the season and Carolina’s other two goals came from Jussi Jokinen, picking up right where his 30-goal performance of a season ago left off, and defenseman Anton Babchuk, back with the Hurricanes after a season with Omsk Avangard of Russia’s KHL, who also led all Carolina skaters with five shots on goal.

Though it sounds a little corny, Carolina’s brass had to be at least somewhat relieved that the likes of Staal, Erik Cole, Tuomo Ruutu and Chad LaRose up front and Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen on the blueline escaped the season debut unscathed, after all missed significant time during an injury-ravaged 2009-10 season. It’s just one game, of course, but after topping 300 man-games lost last year, a small, added victory nonetheless.

The Hurricanes and Wild renew acquaintances in Helsinki once again today, closing out their European adventure at noon eastern.

SOUTHEAST AT A GLANCE

Aside from Carolina’s second game of the year in a few short hours, two other Southeast Division teams begin their seasons tonight, as the Washington Capitals visit the Thrashers in Atlanta. Dustin Byfuglien and fellow Chicago Blackhawk imports Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd and Brent Sopel are set to make their Atlanta debuts, while the Capitals will be without goaltender Semyon Varlamov, on injured reserve to open the season with a reported groin ailment. Michael Neuvirth will start in Varlamov’s place tonight.

The Thrashers are another Southeast club that will look toward youth for added contributions this year. Joining Evander Kane and Niclas Bergfors up front is the eighth overall pick from this past summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Alexander Burmistrov, recently inked to an entry-level contract. 20-year-old defenseman Zach Bogosian will look to improve upon a solid sophomore campaign and should reap the benefits of an improved Atlanta blueline that goes seven or eight deep (depending on where “Big Buff” ultimately ends up, that is) with experienced NHL rearguards.

As for the Caps, the ultimate goal remains in their sights and, after a heartbreaking first-round playoff exit a season ago, last year’s President’s Trophy winners have to be thinking Stanley Cup or bust. Alex Ovechkin and company certainly have the firepower up front and Mike Green leads a defense corps that will score their fair share of points as well. But whether this team’s young goaltenders can carry the load – and whether they are built for postseason success – remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in the division, Atlanta travels to Tampa on Saturday for the Lightning’s home opener and the official start to the Steve Yzerman/Guy Boucher era. Washington hosts the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night as well, while the Florida Panthers won’t see the puck drop for their first game until Sunday night in Edmonton.

Check back in throughout the weekend for updates and news and notes from all over the Southeast and be sure to start the year off right by following me on Twitter just in time for in-game banter live from the St. Pete Times Forum during the Atlanta/Tampa Bay matchup.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
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Filed in: NHL Teams, Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: alex+ovechkin, alexander+burmistrov, andrew+ladd, anton+babchuk, ben+eager, brandon+sutter, brent+sopel, cam+ward, chad+larose, dustin+byfuglien, eric+staal, erik+cole, evander+kane, guy+boucher, jamie+mcbain, jeff+skinner, joni+pitkanen, jussi+jokinen, khl, michael+neuvirth, mike+green, nhl+premiere, niclas+bergfors, semyon+varlamov, steve+yzerman, tim+gleason, tuomo+ruutu, zac+dalpe, zach+bogosian

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About Kukla's Korner Hockey

Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

Email Paul anytime at pk@kuklaskorner.com