Five Observations: Thrashers At Hurricanes

Dustin Byfuglien, right, has been an offensive force for the Thrashers, but Justin Peters & Co. held him without a point in Sunday's 4-3 overtime win. Photo by LTD

The Carolina Hurricanes extended their point streak to seven games, knocking off the Atlanta Thrashers in overtime, 4-3, at the RBC Center on Sunday afternoon. The win moved Carolina to 46 points, three shy of eighth-place Montreal with the Canes holding a game in hand, and within five points of the Thrashers with four games in hand on their division foe. Here are five observations from Sunday's win.

1. There's no denying how impressive Thrashers defenseman Dustin Byfuglien’s point total is: his 41 points ranks him tied for 13th in the NHL with Carolina's Eric Staal and his 16 goals are four more than second-place defenseman Brent Burns of Minnesota. He leads all defensemen in scoring, even topping six-time Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom by two points at the season's midpoint. So kudos to Byfuglien. But let's pull the emergency brake on the campaign to call Big Buff the Norris frontrunner this season. 

If Mike Green can't win the Norris because of his defensive deficiencies, than considering Byfuglien for the award should have you excommunicated from hockey. Byfuglien looks like a mess in his own end, and spends a lot of his time serving as a fourth forward rather than Tobias Enstrom's partner. Furthermore, he was the only Thrashers blueliner to not see any PK time Sunday, and has been on the ice for less than six shorthanded minutes total this season. Not only does Byfuglien look out of sorts in his defensive positioning, but for a player his size he is severely lacking in physicality. That's not to say what Byfuglien has done this season isn't impressive — it is — but Phil Housley, a forward-turned-defenseman, was a dominant offensive force as well, but his best showing was a third-place Norris finish in 1991-92 when with Winnipeg.

The Norris goes to the "defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position." Byfuglien is a great story and a huge part to the Thrashers’ turnaround this year, but calling a defenseman who doesn't ever kill penalties for his team the game's best all-around defender is hockey heresy.

2. Much was made of the swing that happened when Erik Cole's second period goal was disallowed for a mystery interference call, which led to Atlanta converting on the power play and pulling within a goal instead of a 4-1 Hurricanes lead. You could also argue that Bryan Little's first goal should not have counted. After an initial shot by Little, Nik Antropov knocked the rebound out of midair with a too-close-to-call high stick. The puck was punched left of Peters, where Little collected it and scored on a wraparound. On the ice, the officials chose not to blow the play dead, which would've occurred had the officials determined Antropov played the puck with a high stick since Little was the next to play it. The play was not reviewable because a high stick can only be reviewed if it directly results in a goal, but it was definitely a close play that certainly would've been reviewable had Antropov's whack resulted in a goal.

3. Justin Peters was far from perfect in the last two games — he'd probably like his first goal vs. the Panthers and the last against the Thrashers back — but he proved he could battle through some struggles and still keep Carolina in the game and earn two wins. Can you ask more of your backup? Coach Paul Maurice has smartly rode his No. 1 goalie, Cam Ward, into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, but Peters’ play since his mid-December relief of Ward in Florida has to give Maurice confidence in his backup. Peters has now won three out of his last four appearances and has helped Carolina keep its momentum moving forward despite Ward needing some rest for a slight lower-body aggravation.

4. It's hard not to get excited about the play of rookie Zac Dalpe, whose speed, soft hands and effort is evident on every shift. He now has three goals in the five games since he was recalled, and he's doing so in limited minutes. According to BehindTheNet.ca, on the season Dalpe ranks 11th in goals per 60 minutes (1.87), and he's doing that without power play time. Yes, Dalpe's sample size is small — he's played just 102 minutes so far this season — but there's no denying that Dalpe brings top-end skill to Carolina's top defensive forward duo of Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer.

5. It's one team ago for Andrew Ladd, but the deal that sent him to Chicago in exchange for Tuomo Ruutu is one of those trades that has benefited both sides. Ladd not only helped the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup, but he's since become the captain in Atlanta and is the team's top scoring forward with highs in goals (14), assists (22) and points (36). Ruutu is leading all Canes in assists (23) and trails only Staal in points (41 to 33), plus he ranks second in the entire NHL in hits with 159. When Ladd was dealt to Chicago Feb. 26, 2008, many were frustrated at Carolina shipping out the one-time fourth overall pick for Ruutu. Nearly three years later, I doubt many who follow the Hurricanes would be willing to reacquire Ladd for Ruutu. This trade, along with the Jack Johnson trade that landed Tim Gleason, shows that GM Rutherford won't deal his top-end prospects without a clear understanding of what he is getting back. Rutherford would surely admit that not all his trades come out with Carolina on top or, like the Ladd-for-Ruutu trade, with both teams winning, but more often than not the veteran GM has proven his eye for talent is among hockey's best.

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