The Carolina Hurricanes may have been strangers to Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, but the names on the score sheet were familiar.
Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Jerome Samson, who all spent the bulk of last season with the Checkers, scored three of the Canes’ four goals in a 4-0 preseason victory over the visiting Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Jay Harrison added the other tally, while Cam Ward made 35 saves in his first full start of the exhibition schedule.
Though they’re hoping it will be a brief one as they aim to crack the Hurricanes’ opening night roster, it’s safe to say that the homecoming was a good one for the night’s offensive stars.
“There was probably some luck involved, but it was a good reward for the fans in Charlotte that watched us play all last season,” said Dalpe.
Dalpe, who scored the game’s first goal on a breakaway at the 6:43 mark of the first period, will almost certainly not be back in the Queen City for the Checkers’ opening night on Oct. 15. Thought to have an inside track on one of the Hurricanes’ two open spots at forward heading into the season, his performance and those of others have seemingly done nothing to change that. Though he finished the game on the top line alongside Eric Staal, one of his linemates from earlier in the contest, Jiri Tlusty, has also impressed during the preseason, further limiting the opportunities of others.
Still, that doesn’t mean good showings by others haven’t gone unnoticed. Nash did well filling in for the injured Tuomo Ruutu on the Canes’ second line with Jeff Skinner and Anthony Stewart. His goal made it 4-0 just as a power play expired in the second period, while he earlier added an assist on Harrison’s seeing-eye point shot in the first.
“They’re two great players and I was just trying to keep it simple out there and not get in their way,” said Nash.
While cautioning that Nash would likely not be able to secure a starting place for a healthy Hurricanes squad, Maurice did say he was pleased with Nash’s progress, calling him the “most improved” player from last season’s camp.
“He’s never out of position, and now you look at him as a definite prospect for our team,” said Maurice of Nash. “He’s gotten better and stronger in all these games. It’s not the goal, it’s all the other things that go along with that. I liked him a lot.”
If the tryout drama has ended at forward, which Maurice said it essentially has (Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk will likely get one more shot during Wednesday’s return leg in Winnipeg), things have apparently ramped up on defense. Recent draftee Ryan Murphy picked up an assist and posted a plus-three plus/minus rating on his debut, while Justin Faulk was solid yet again, nearly scoring on several point shots in the second period and picking up the secondary assist on Dalpe’s opener.
“Going in I would have said where forward is all the competition is, and I’m not sure that at the end of camp we’ll say that all the competition was on our back end,” said Maurice. “That’s a positive thing.”
Samson, who finished last season on a healthy run of games in Carolina, showed why he was the AHL’s leading shot taker at the time of his recall, firing one from a sharp angle in the third period that may have deflected off Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien before trickling in. The unassisted tally put the Canes up 3-0.
Jon Matsumoto nearly added to the former Checkers’ party, narrowly missing on a breakaway chance in the third period.
As last season’s Checkers head back to Raleigh, for however long that may be, they can do so knowing they put on a good showing for their hometown fans. Based on the reactions of those less familiar with hockey in Charlotte, it would appear the effect was mutual.
“You want for your American Hockey League team to be as close to the NHL as possible,” said Maurice. “They’ve got the building for it and they’ve got the fans for it. We’re in the right spot.”