Five Observations: Senators At Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes were involved in another blowout Wednesday night, routing the Senators, 7-1, at the RBC Center to move back to .500 and sit just one point out of eighth in the Eastern Conference. Eric Staal had five points — including his 11th career hat trick — and linemate Chad LaRose matched a career-high with four points to lead the way.

Here are five observations from Wednesday's win.

1. Much was rightfully made of the Senators attending the memorial for Daron Richardson, the 14-year-old daughter of Ottawa assistant coach Luke Richardson who committed suicide last week, prior to flying to Raleigh Wednesday to play the Hurricanes. For all the things Carolina did right in the game, the victory felt empty given the backdrop of the tragedy.

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson has long been a supporter of Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, a charity that raises money to help fight the stigma associated with mental illness. For those who know someone who has battled mental illness, the tragedy of Daron's death hits particularly hard. For those who don't, educate yourself on the signs of mental illness, and how you can get help for yourself or a loved one. To learn more or donate to the foundation, you can go to YouKnowWhoIAm.com. All our thoughts are with the Richardson family at this indescribably difficult time.

2. Staal's five-point night catapulted the Carolina captain into the top 10 in NHL scoring (22 points in 18 games) and gave him 11 points in his past four games. The scary thing is Staal was stopped on two breakaways (shoot, don't deke, please) during the game, so a five-goal, seven-point night wasn't that far out of reach. Staal has made a point of piling up multi-point games this season, with Wednesday's effort marking the eighth time this year he's managed at least two points. Staal was also credited with his third game-winning goal, which ties him for the league lead with 14 other players. Finally, LaRose's four points marked his third multi-point night of the campaign. He had just four all of last season.

3.Coach Paul Maurice had to again use a timeout in a game that was well in hand, reminding his young team that the score shouldn't dictate his players' compete level. He did the same two weeks ago in Carolina's 7-2 win over the Islanders.

The concern, from where I'm sitting, is that the Canes are not having to compete for wins on a nightly basis. Wednesday's win over Ottawa marked the fourth straight game that was decided by five or more goals — two wins, two losses for Carolina — and the sixth in seven that had at least a three-goal differential. Only the Nov. 6 3-2 win over Florida was close, but even then it took a goal with 43 seconds left to make it a one-goal game. These see-saw results make the Hurricanes perhaps the NHL's most unpredictable team right now, and while it's fun for fans and stat hounds to see Carolina drop seven or eight goals on an opponent every other game, it won't help the Canes in the long run. Close games are what hardens a team when the going gets tough. Here's to hoping Carolina starts player playing more 2-1 and 4-3 games and fewer 8-1 and 7-2 ones, regardless of wins and losses.

4. For those that remember, Jamie McBain's jump to pro hockey wasn't a "leaping tall buildings in a single bound" arrival. McBain started his first full pro season in Albany focused on the defensive side of his game. In the season's first three and a half months McBain had 17 points — a solid but simply decent amount. On Jan. 17 against Providence, McBain registered his first three-point night, and two weeks later he ran off an eight-game point streak that saw him register 11 points. From Febuary until his promotion to the Hurricanes, McBain had 3 goals and 21 assists in 21 games. He continued to play well upon joining the Canes, potting three goals and seven assists in his first 14 NHL games.

It's with that progression in mind that we mention McBain's 2010-11 season. Last year, McBain was riding high, full of confidence when he joined Carolina. On a team without anything to play for but pride, the 22-year-old blueliner thrived. His end-of-season play had him penciled in the list of Calder Trophy candidates for this year. But in 18 games, McBain has just four points. Why? After last night's game, I think the answer is clear.

McBain likely came into this season looking to pick up where he left off. But the pressure of living up to expectations, the grinding travel of Carolina's early season schedule, and the realization that things wouldn't come so easily had McBain reaching for the reset button. And that reset button, as we've learned above, is a back-to-basics approach to defense. McBain stopped worrying about being an offensive contributor and instead tried to handle his own end first. Slowly, his defensive game rounded into form, and last night you could see the offensive confidence from the end of last season re-emerge. His laser from the point on Chad LaRose's second goal of the night created the kind of rebound that forwards dream about collecting and stuffing in the net, and later in the game he unleashed another shot that made the familiar "pop!" of a low, hard slap shot finding it's mark.

Can we now expect the McBain from the 14 games that close out last season? There's certainly still room to grow — in both ends — but for the first time in 2010-11, Carolina's now-forgotten Calder candidate looked like the player that opened our eyes eight months ago.

5. The thing I will always remember about Tom Kostopoulos was seeing him shirtless in the locker room this preseason and thinking, "That's the fearless guy who stands up for his teammates?"

Kostopoulos is in no way a big guy — not in height, weight or muscles — but his old-school dedication to the game and the way it ought to be played made him big on the ice. Kostopoulos didn't win many fights — and even admitted he didn't particularly like them — but that never kept him from using his fists to defend a teammate, try to spark the Canes or answer the bell against his opponent's biggest and baddest.

While Anton Babchuk's time(s) in Raleigh will be remembered for all the highs (his mammoth power play slap shot goals and surprisingly soft in-close hands) and lows (two defections to Russia and disappearance in the 2009 playoffs), Kostopoulos will be remembered as a steady constant. He always gave his best effort and did so regardless of his minutes or his role. Kostopoulos is much more than a fighter, as anyone who watches the game knows, but it was his willingness to do whatever he needed to that helped his team that made the fact he dropped the gloves 12 times as a Cane memorable. Ian White will be a welcome addition Friday, but Kostopoulos will be missed, too.

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