Whether it was 7-0 drubbing or a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat, the end result was the same for the Carolina Hurricanes in their back-to-back games against the Boston Bruins. Two losses. No points. After the B's manhandled Carolina Monday in Beantown, the Canes bounced back Tuesday with a dominant effort — but still fell short thanks to the play of Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. Here are five observations from the two losses.
1. Jussi Jokinen has been hot as can be the past five games since emerging from injury, but one can't help but feel that his return has upset the chemistry Carolina had built in early January. Jokinen has eight points in the past five, but Carolina has won just two of those games.
With Jokinen's return, Zac Dalpe lost a top-nine job and was eventually reassigned to Charlotte when Ryan Carter also came back from injury. Then Zach Boychuk — who had established himself on the scoring lines with his scoring and physicality — was relegated to the fourth line before heading back to the AHL Wednesday. It's not Jokinen's fault that the team hasn't won much since his return — he's certainly done his part — but the Canes need to take a hard look at other veterans and determine if their place in the lineup presents more value than Dalpe or Boychuk.
2. Chad LaRose is one veteran who is unlikely to go anywhere, and his third period goal tied Tuesday's game at two and was his second tally in three games. But his elbowing penalty (really a high stick to Zdeno Chara, and if called as such would've been four minutes instead of two) was an example of LaRose trying to be an agitator instead of an energy player.
LaRose certainly lets his lips go on the ice, but he's at his best when he's hustling, finishing checks and defending. His willingness to stand up to opponents is valued, but his run at Chara was not only ill-advised but poorly executed. For one, most any hit LaRose lays on Chara isn't going to deter Big Z. Secondly, his penalty led to Boston's game-winning power play goal. I respect the way LaRose plays the game — even if the chirping, in my opinion, get a little old — because he always gives an honest, all-out effort. But he loses his way when he confuses agitating and energy. His goal? All about effort and energy. The penalty? A poorly thought out intimidation tactic.
3. One player who could go somewhere? Joni Pitkanen. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has a big decision to make regarding the pending unrestricted free agent. If Rutherford decides Pitkanen's new deal will be too rich for Carolina's blood, I wouldn't be surprised to see the big Finn shipped out before the trade deadline.
When he's on or even average, Pitkanen is extremely valuable: he munches minutes, plays with an edge in his own end, and has a vision few defensemen in the league can match. But when Pitkanen's not on his game, everything seems to fall apart. Poor decisions can lead to forced passes. His defensive zone coverage seems to lack basic fundamentals (see Milan Lucic's game-winning goal Tuesday). Frustration turns into bad penalties. Right now, Pitkanen is struggling, and Rutherford will surely pay close attention over next month or so to see if No. 25 is in his long-term plans.
4. After a shaky start Monday that saw him pulled early in the first period, Cam Ward bounced back and looked spectacular Tuesday. Trouble is, he wasn't as spectacular as his counterpart. Still, Ward made several sparking saves (Nathan Horton can tell you about them) and kept Carolina in the game when it looked like Thomas wasn't going to let even a marble sneak past him. This is a crucial juncture for Ward: he is just 2-3-2 in his last seven starts and will be relied on as much in second half of the season as he was in the first 40-plus games. With the back-to-back games in the rearview mirror, the Canes now have four games until the All Star Game, and since they alternate games and days off until then, Ward could play in all of them. With the Rangers, Penguins, Leafs and Islanders on the schedule, six points would be preferred, and anything less than four would be a disaster.
5. While Claude Julien used his fourth line effectively in both games, Maurice seemed to forget about his in Tuesday's loss. The trio of Carter, Boychuk and Troy Bodie combined for only 15 minutes of ice time despite looking effective in that limited role. Carter had four hits, while Bodie added three and had two shots on goal. Boychuk played just 4:48 and, as mentioned earlier, was sent back to Charlotte for more ice time. The addition of Bodie and Carter has been a big part of Carolina's success, but the inability to find a suitable third player — all seem overqualified, to be honest — among the logjam at forward means Maurice is hogtied. I expect Tlusty will play alongside them Thursday, but he too is capable of being at least a third-line player each night.