Carolina hosted Western Conference foe Dallas Monday with national audiences in the U.S. (Versus) and Canada (TSN) watching, but didn't do much to impress in their third game in four nights, falling to the Stars 4-1 at the RBC Center.
Here are five observations from the game.
1. The NHL's schedule makers again dealt the Canes a tough hand, sticking the team on national TV on the final game of a brutal three-games-in-four-nights stretch. Making things more difficult was the fact that the three opponents in three different cities down the East Coast were Boston, Washington and Dallas — all among the league's better teams through a quarter of the season. The Hurricanes’ legs showed it. Carolina showed some energy in spurts, but for the most part the team looked like a group dragging from the tough stretch.2. That being said, Cam Ward performed well in all three games. The stats from Monday's game may not show it — Ward had 29 saves on 33 shots — but the Canes goaltender kept Carolina in the game and shouldn't be faulted for allowing four goals on a night when the team in front of him didn't lend much assistance. While his current 2.70 goals-against average is the highest since he finished 2007-08 with a 2.75, his .920 save percentage is the best of his career.
3. Eric Staal had the lone goal for the Canes, converting a breakaway after muscling the puck up the boards and pulling away for the Dallas defense. The proximity of Stephane Robidas left Staal no choice but to shoot rather than deke, and the result was much better than the times Staal has attempted a move on the opposing goalie rather than just shooting. He lifted the shot over Lehtonen’s right shoulder for his 12th goal of the season and ninth in November, his best goal-scoring month since he netted 10 in January. His 21 points in November are the most he's had since March 2008 and are just one shy of the career-high 22 he had in October 2005.
4. The not-publicly-discussed rivalry between former junior teammates and friends Tim Gleason and Steve Ott boiled over again Monday after Gleason leveled Stars forward Adam Burish with a clean hit in the third period. Ott and Trevor Daley jumped in to go after Gleason — an unfortunately normal response these days to a big hit — but it was clear there was more to the confrontation. Here's the hit, but not the after-the-fact scrum.
Last season, Stars captain Brenden Morrow went after Gleason unprovoked, leading to fighting majors for the two old-school players. It's one thing to look forward to an on-ice rivalry, but I, for one, am glad these two teams don't play frequently, as there is clearly true venom between Gleason and Ott that likely won't ever be resolved in an on-ice showdown.
5. For all the Plymouth Whalers the Hurricanes have drafted over the years, they missed out on James Neal, the Stars power forward who is exactly the type of player Carolina could use on Staal’s wing. Neal, who played for the Peter Karmanos-owned Whalers from 2004 to 2007, is already a two-time 20-goals scorer and has 10 in just 23 games this season. Neal, who was selected 33rd overall in 2005, scored twice Monday and has quickly become one of Dallas' best players.
In a normal season, Carolina would have owned that pick, having selected third overall in the first round. But because the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season, the NHL held a 30-team lottery to determine draft order, then had the order reversed (snaked, for you fantasy sports fans) in each subsequent round, meaning Carolina chose 58th in the second round — third from last. Instead, Carolina drafted Nate Hagemo, who's career was derailed by personal issues.