For the fourth straight season, Eric Staal struggled to score in October. Carolina's captain had just five points and is a league-worst minus-13 through 11 games. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Carolina Hurricanes played five solid periods against two presumed Stanley Cup contenders, but after dominating the Blackhawks en route to a 3-0 shutout Friday, the Canes fell apart in the third period of a tie game against the Flyers the next night, losing 5-1.
The split moved Carolina to 4-4-3 on the season with the first month in the books. The Canes' 11 points place them ninth in the Eastern Conference. The team played just four of their first 11 games at hthe RBC Center, so they need to capitalize on their home-heavy schedule in November.
1. Cam Ward didn't have to be spectacular against the Blackhawks, but he was on his game when he needed to be and earned his first shutout of the season. He has picked up where he left off last season, going 4-2-2 to open the season with a 2.34 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Unfortunately, Brian Boucher's three outings haven't gone as well. The team is 0-2-1 — including the loss to Philly that can't be pinned on him —with the veteran backup between the pipes.
2. If Carolina's inability to score in the shootout against Ottawa didn't already convince Paul Maurice that Brandon Sutter deserves a chance in the Hurricanes' next shootout, his third breakaway goal of the season probably did. Sutter hopped out of the penalty box after serving a tripping penalty to find the puck right in front of him. He accelerated toward Hawks goalie Corey Crawford and beat him under the blocker to push the lead to 2-0. All three of the alternate captain's goals have come on breakaways and he has buried them confidence and precision.
3. If you need an example of the "when things go bad, they go really bad" snowball effect, look no further than Eric Staal's minus-4 against Philadlephia. It's hard to find fault in Staal's positioning or play on any of the goals against he was on the ice for. On Jagr's first goal, Boucher didn't handle the puck well behind the net leading to a turnover. Staal offered support at the boards as Tim Gleason attempted to win a battle to clear the puck, but the puck was centered and went past Chad LaRose to Jagr for the goal. The second goal, a shorthanded one by Maxime Talbot, saw Staal set up at the other side of the ice on the power play when the puck was turned over, leading to a goal on a two-on-two. On Giroux's goal, Staal was in deep when the puck headed the other way. Jamie McBain simply misplayed Giroux on the one-on-one, allowing the goal. On the last goal, Jagr's second, Staal won the faceoff and then stick-checked Giroux in front to prevent a chance, but Jagr eventually got the puck and buried it. Staal's league-worst minus-13 is not all due to circumstance, but on Saturday night it was Murphy's Law for Staal.
Number To Know
6 — Average points in October for Staal over the past four seasons. Staal has just five points in 11 games so far this season, but a slow first month hasn't been uncommon for No. 12 in recent years. He managed just seven points last season and in 2008-09, and in 2009-10 he had just five. In 2010-11 he had a big November, scoring nine goals and adding 12 assists for 21 points 14 games, his best statistical month of the season.
Jiri Tlusty — The former first-rounder earned a shot on Staal's wing with his mix of hustle and untapped offensive skill. And while his placement next to the Carolina captain did not result in Staal breaking out of his scoring slump yet, Tlusty registered points in both games. His willingness to crash the net resulted in several opportunities, including his goal against Chicago that came via a picture-perfect feed from defenseman Bryan Allen.
Tim Gleason — After a great night against the Blackhawks, Gleason struggled mightily against the Flyers. His defensive zone turnover led to the game's first goal, and he also had other mistakes — he coughed the puck up again later, resulting in him taking a penalty to hinder a Jaromir Jagr breakaway attempt — that have otherwise been minimal this season. There were other culprits in the loss to the Flyers, but Gleason's early game struggles helped set the tone for Philadelphia.