Jeff Skinner’s glare will probably not strike fear into opponents, but the Carolina rookie stood up for himself when things got rough against the Flames Tuesday. Photo by LTD
The Carolina Hurricanes blew a three-goal lead to visiting Calgary but managed to notch a shootout win to extend their point streak to eight games. The Canes still sit ninth in the Eastern Conference with 48 points, but their 6-0-2 record of late has them just three points shy of Atlanta and Montreal, and Carolina holds three games in hand on the Thrashers. For the sake of point percentage, the Hurricanes actually rank eighth in the Eastern Conference (.571 to Atlanta's .567). Here are five observations from Tuesday's win.
1. When Paul Maurice writes his memoirs, don't expect an entry for 1-1-11. While the Hurricanes continued to exhibit some impressive firepower (believe it or not, the team is now just minus-1 in goal differential at 127-128, and they have 31 goals in their past eight games) the defensive errors were inexcusable. Carolina continuously allowed the Flames space in the center of the ice, and the Canes continue to struggle with clearing attempts in their own end. For all the things he's doing right for Carolina, Tuomo Ruutu’s inability to chip the puck out of the Hurricanes’ end is a nightly adventure, and several other Canes are guilty of risky middle-of-the-ice passes and turnovers that lead to chances and goals for the opposition. The plethora of shorthanded breakaways and odd-man rushes the Hurricanes allowed against Calgary should be a good starting point for a film session on how to play team defense.
2. Jeff Skinner was pushed, shoved, punched and squashed, but the 18-year-old kept on coming at the Flames and eventually potted the lone shootout goal to give Carolina the win. Part of the Flames’ game plan — at least once they saw for themselves what Skinner is capable of — was to be physical with the NHL’s top scoring rookie and try to get in his head. Did it work? Maybe a little bit, as Skinner took a third period penalty that could have been critical to the outcome of the game. But you have to love the tenacity from No. 53, who refused to back away from the much bigger Adam Pardy and Cory Sarich and didn't seem to be impacted all that much by the underhanded efforts of the Flames. His coach liked it, and the rest of Carolina's followers should as well.
3. Speaking of Skinner's penalty, I had no problems with the boarding call, even if Curtis Glencross seemed to oversell it a little bit. What I do have a problem with is a similar hit made by the Flames’ Cory Sarich on Zach Boychuk that went uncalled. Sarich’s hit, for me, falls into one of the gray areas of the NHL’s new policy on head shots. There's a vast height difference in the two players (5'10 vs. 6'4), and Sarich — while not seemingly targeting Boychuk's head — definitely delivers an above the shoulders blow that crunched the Carolina rookie forward's head into the glass and left him momentarily dazed. Sarich’s elbow was tucked down, but his shoulder clearly made contact with Boychuk’s head and was a hit more dangerous than Skinner's hit on Glencross. Did Sarich deserve a penalty? Probably not, according to the letter of the law. Such is life in the NHL, where black and white rules are supposed to solve multicolored issues.
4. You can tell Joe Corvo is just oozing confidence right now. That's good news for Carolina because there's no denying that Corvo is a streaky player who can dominate some games and look lost in others. As I mentioned following the Rangers game last week, one play can often set Corvo off on a good run or a bad streak. As he's matured during his time in Carolina, those ebbs and flows have lessened, but right now Corvo is at his best and most confident. His move through the heart of the Calgary defense six minutes into the second period — right after the Hurricanes chased Miikka Kiprusoff — was Corvo at his best and most dangerous in the offensive zone.
5. Like they say, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Just ask Olli Jokinen. The Flames center had several chances throughout the game, but could not score despite what could have easily been a hat trick evening for him. Perhaps the best illustration of that was the play in the third with the game at 5-4. Jarome Iginla fed a perfect pass to Jokinen in the slot, but the Finn's shot hit Carolina blueliner — and ex-Flame — Ian White on the skate and deflected off the crossbar. On night when Calgary's Jokinen could have been the star, instead it was Carolina’s Jokinen who stole the show. Jussi Jokinen, in his first game back after missing six due to injury, scored twice for the Canes and added an assist.